Pakistan's finance minister unexpectedly loses Senate vote

Mr Imran Khan had the backing of 180 lawmakers in the National Assembly when he came to power. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KARACHI (BLOOMBERG) - Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan will seek a confidence vote in the National Assembly, or Parliament's Lower House, after his finance minister lost an election for a seat in the Upper House, the biggest test yet for his three-year-old government.

Mr Khan faced a surprise loss in the country's Senate after Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh lost a tightly fought battle for a seat in the indirectly elected house against the opposition-backed former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Seats to the Senate are voted on by the directly elected members of the powerful National Assembly and Mr Khan is seeking the vote to show he still commands a majority there despite Mr Shaikh's loss, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a news conference after the election.

Mr Khan will get majority votes from lawmakers in the 342-member Lower House when the voting is held, Mr Mohammed Sohail, the Chief Executive Officer at Topline Securities Ltd, in Karachi said. Mr Qureshi said the premier will seek a vote "soon," without giving a date.

Mr Gilani, who was supported by an alliance of 11 opposition parties, won by securing 169 votes against 164 won by Mr Shaikh, according to a televised announcement by a Parliament official. Seven votes were rejected.

Mr Khan had the backing of 180 lawmakers in the National Assembly when he came to power. The opposition alliance asked Mr Khan to resign after the loss.

While the final tally of the 100-seat Senate isn't out yet, Mr Khan's Tehreek-e-Insaf party is the single largest party in Senate with atleast 26 seats, according to a report in the Dawn newspaper.

But his ruling coalition is still likely to fall short of a majority in the 100-member Upper House needed to push through crucial legislation, Mr Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, said on television Wednesday (March 3).

The result, which indicates Mr Khan has lost a majority in the National Assembly, will be a boost for the opposition alliance that plans to march on Islamabad on March 26 to topple his government, two years before he finishes a five-year term.

The opposition alliance includes the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz led by ex-premier Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Peoples Party of former President Asif Ali Zardari.

Mr Shaikh had to win a Parliament seat to continue as the finance minister after June 11. He is key a member in-charge of the government's economic policies and reforms plan under the International Monetary Fund's US$6 billion (S$7.99 billion) loan programme.

The government plans to challenge the count and the votes that were rejected, Mr Shahbaz Gill, a spokesman for Mr Khan said in a Twitter post.

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