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I first heard the term "self-coup" only several minutes ago during US Representative Jamie Raskin's April 3, 2022 discussion of the House Select Committee on January 6th's work on Face the Nation's House committee still lacks "comprehensive" view of Trump's actions on January 6, Raskin says

...people who have been charged with seditious conspiracy, which means conspiracy to overthrow the government. They shut down the counting of electoral votes for the first time in American history. (It) didn't even happen when Lincoln took the presidency in 1861.

Okay there was that violent insurrection, but then there was an attempt at an inside coup, what the political scientists call a self-coup. Not a coup against a president, but a coup that's orchestrated by the president against the constitutional system. And what we're looking for is the connections between the inside political coup and the insurrection, and I do feel confident (that) we're going to be able to tell that story.

Wikipedia's Self-coup; Notable events described as self-coup lists more than twenty evens, and its Self coup; Notable events described as attempted self-coup currently lists four; in Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, and recently in the United States.

Neither list currently includes Pakistan.

See for example the Washington Post's April 2 or 3, 2022 Pakistan’s prime minister skirts effort to oust him, orders Parliament dissolved for elections and especially Al Jazeera's April 3, 2022 report Pakistan Parliament dismisses no-confidence motion against Khan discusses the dissolution of the Parliament of Pakistan. Al Jazeera reporter Osama Bin Javaid says:

Well it is a constitutional crisis that Pakistan finds itself in. Right now opposition members are staging a sit-in at the National Assembly where this no-confidence motion was thrown out by the Speaker, the opposition insisting that (that was) unconstitutional and illegal. They say they will elect their own speaker of the national assembly, because they now have the majority, and according to the norms and rules of the constitution and democracy the prime minister should have faced a vote of no confidence rather than running away from the assembly.

The prime minister (is) saying that this is a matter of national interest right now; Pakistan is facing a grave threat from outside, and that's why he's asked the president to dissolve the assemblies. All of this has bearings because of the constitution of Pakistan, and with us is a former judge of the high court in Lahore, Mr. Mudasir Abbasi thank you very much for being with us...

When it comes to forms of government that have a president, a prime minster and a parliament I'm a fish out of water, so I will not try to quote nor summarize former judge of the high court in Lahore Mr. Mudasir Abbasi's answer except to say that he goes into some detail about issues of timing and the role that the Supreme Court of Pakistan will play in addressing the preemptive dissolution.

Question: Does the dissolution of parliament in order to prevent a vote of no confidence against Pakistan's president Imran Kahn meet an accepted definition of an attempted self-coup?

I think now there is sufficient information about Pakistan's government and constitution and the recent events that it is not too early to ask this question. Certainly the term self-coup should have sufficient definition that these events can be compared to a definition and this described based on the facts of the case and the laws of Pakistan.

I've asked about "an accepted definition" because if I'd asked "the accepted definition" the first comment would be "which definition do you want us to use?" and I'm generally loath to pre-constrain answers in areas so far out of my expertise. Answers should draw from, as Raskin phrases it "what the political scientists call a self-coup" which seems to be "a coup that's orchestrated by the president against the constitutional system."

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  • The Supreme Court will have a hearing on Monday. It's not clear if the dissolution of the Pakistan Parliament really was successful. Also, in Pakistan often the Military is involved in political matters.
    – Trilarion
    Apr 3 at 22:36
  • @Trilarion thanks for the news flash, but success is not related to my question about "an attempted self-coup". I'm only asking here about events that have already transpired.
    – uhoh
    Apr 3 at 22:37
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    Dissolution with new elections in lieu of no confidence is par for the course in Westminster-inspired parliamentary systems; in fact it is a fundamental part of the system as a check and balance for the executive against the legislature so the dispute between the two branch will be decided by the people. You could even suspend Parliament do it without dissolution and new elections. But Pakistan may have developed a different tradition and attitude towards avoiding a confidence vote.
    – xngtng
    Apr 4 at 16:18
  • @xngtng I think you can repost your comment as an answer beginning with a big "No" in the beginning.
    – uhoh
    Apr 4 at 20:23

2 Answers 2

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According to the ruling of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on that matter it was unconstitutional.

The contested point was the dismissal of the no-confidence motion against Pakistan's prime minister in the National Assembly session on 3rd April by the deputy speaker with referral to Article 5 of the constitution. If the no-confidence motion would have gone through, the dissolution of the Parliament by the Prime minister would not have been possible anymore. The Parliament could have elected another Prime Minister and elections would have taken place at the next regular date.

Article 5 of Pakistan's constitution is a very general article and it was not clear if this article would have been sufficient to block a no-confidence vote of the National assembly. A petition to the Supreme Court of Pakistan was lodged and the Court heard arguments. The state of the affairs had been described as constitutional crisis.

On Thursday, 7th April, the supreme court decided that the dissolution of the National Assembly was violating the constitution and ordered the no-confidence vote to go forward.

On Saturday/Sunday 9th/10th of April the National Assembly voted on no confidence and ousted the then prime minister Imram Khan with 174 votes, two more than needed.

In this light, I conclude that the attempted dissolution indeed was meeting a definition of attempted self coup, in this case orchestrated by the prime minister and the deputy speaker of the National Assembly against the constitutional right of the National assembly to express a vote of no-confidence in the Prime minister, oust the current Prime minister and elect a new one and remain seated until the next regular elections.

However, that self coup did not succeed. Therefore it was only an attempted one. If one would assume good faith, it might also just be described as misunderstanding. Imran Khan and relevant figures of his party might just have misread article 5 of the constitution. I would think it more likely though that they were desperate and willing to bend the constitution to prevent a dismissal of their PM, which is equivalent to an attempted coup.

However, the possibility of dissolving the Parliament by the prime minister exists as well as the possibility of the Parliament of no confidence votes in the Pakistani constitution. Both seems to be a bit unstable and may inherently lead to race conditions.

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  • Will update the answer with the ruling of the Supreme Court when it comes out.
    – Trilarion
    Apr 5 at 16:51
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    @user366312 Attempting to dissolve the Parliament after a possible no-confidence vote that has been blocked under dubious circumstances is at the very least a constitutional crisis. So far it's not clear if and how far the PM might have overstepped. Let's wait and see what the Court decides and how the PM reacts to that and what happens after that.
    – Trilarion
    Apr 6 at 7:02
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    @StuartF Not necessarily. But calling elections illegally would mean here restricting the constitutional right of the Pakistani Parliament and depriving it of the possibility to oust a sitting PM and elect a new one. Surely that would be kind of a coup. How much of a coup and if at all remains to be seen.
    – Trilarion
    Apr 6 at 13:05
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    @user366312 No it isn't here to discredit your answer. I honestly think that this answer is the better answer because it highlights what the controversy is really about. In your answer, one could get the impression that nothing extra-ordinary has happened. You don't even seem to see any constitutional crisis at all. In this regard our answers are almost opposite and it's good to have them both, so people can vote on them.
    – Trilarion
    Apr 6 at 19:58
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    @Trilarion do you think that the ruling by the Supreme Court and subsequent events (successful vote of no confidence) are sufficient to trigger a further edit?
    – uhoh
    Apr 10 at 0:44
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Does dissolution of parliament in order to prevent a vote of no confidence against Imran Kahn meet an accepted definition of an attempted self-coup?

No.

According to Wikipedia:

A self-coup, also called autocoup (from the Spanish autogolpe), is a form of coup d'état in which a nation's leader, having come to power through legal means, dissolves or renders powerless the national legislature and unlawfully assumes extraordinary powers not granted under normal circumstances.

The highlighted part of the definition taken from Wikipedia doesn't agree with what PM Imran Khan did.

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What the constitution of Pakistan says
Article 58 of Pakistan's constitution says that

58 (1) The President shall dissolve the National Assembly if so advised by the Prime Minister; and the National Assembly shall, unless sooner dissolved, stand dissolved at the expiration of forty-eight hours after the Prime Minister has so advised. Explanation.– Reference in this Article to "Prime Minister" shall not be construed to include reference to a Prime Minister against whom a notice of a resolution for a vote of no-confidence has been given in the National Assembly but has not been voted upon or against whom such a resolution has been passed or who is continuing in office after his resignation or after the dissolution of the National Assembly.

58 (2) Notwithstanding anything contained in clause (2) of Article 48, the President may also dissolve the National Assembly in his discretion where a vote of no-confidence having been passed against the Prime Minister, no other member of the National Assembly commands the confidence of the majority of the members of the National Assembly in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, as ascertained in a session of the National Assembly summoned for the purpose.]

That means a PM can't advise the President to dissolve the parliament if a no-confidence motion is already in progress.

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What actually happened
In the case of the Pakistani PM, first, the no-confidence motion was rejected on the grounds of foreign interference in Pakistan's politics.

This was done on the basis of Article 5 of the constitution of Pakistan:

5 (1) Loyalty to the State is the basic duty of every citizen.

5 (2) Obedience to the Constitution and law is the obligation of every citizen wherever he may be and of every other person for the time being within Pakistan.

After the rejection, PM sent "advice" to the President to dissolve the parliament. As a result, the national election will be held in 90 days under a caretaker government, and in the meantime, Imran Khan will continue to serve as a PM.

This means that PM assumed no additional power. He will just function as a PM. However, since the assembly is dissolved, he doesn't have much power left.

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The basis for the rejection of no-confidence
According to Pakistani PM Imran Khan, on 7th March 2022, Pakistani diplomats were summoned to the foreign office of "a Western country" and were told that

  1. they were not satisfied with Pakistan's Russia policy.
  2. PM Imran Khan visited Russia on his own accord which is not acceptable to them.
  3. a no-confidence move is coming against the PM.
  4. if the PM IK survives the no-confidence move, Pakistan will face a grim future.
  5. if the PM IK is gone, all of Pakistan's wrong moves would be forgiven.

The PM also said that these threats are present in the black and white form of an official communique.

On 31st March 2022, the official "threat" document was presented in front of the national security council of Pakistan and decided to issue a demarche against the US role. On the same day, the Pakistani PM received a report from the Pakistani intelligence agency that dozens of Pakistani members of parliaments, journalists, and media house owners had been meeting various US officials from the US embassy in Pakistan since October 2021. On 2nd April 2022, a senior US diplomat in Pakistan was summoned by the Foreign Office of Pakistan and registered a protest. On 3rd March 2022, PM IK revealed that it was Donald Lu who threatened Pakistani officials on the record.

The USA publicly denied any role in the ouster of PM Imran Khan. However, Donald Lu was questioned by a journalist from the Hindustan Times if Imran Khan's allegations of conveying threatening messages to the Pak ambassador about a no-confidence motion to avoid serious consequences for Pakistan, Donald Lu passed on without a denial. This is a video clip posted on Twitter, where Donald Lu was seen grilled by senator Van Hollen, and it showed that, indeed, he had been in contact with Pakistani officials regarding not voting against Russia.

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    PMs are expected to be free to vote. If the government can ignore the Parliament (and the constitution) just by crying "foreign interference" whenever it wants to, then the parliament and constitution are powerless to control the executive. Your conclusion is "no" but your reasoning screams "yes", way more definitely than Trilarion's answer.
    – SJuan76
    Apr 6 at 23:29
  • @SJuan76 But that's not everything. The Pakistani constitution allows for dissolution of the Parliament. There seems to be a race condition built in with the no confidence vote versus dissolution and that leads to inherent instability. The constitution was written in 1973 by the Bhutto government but this part might be a big flaw. Other constitutions have solved this problem more elegantly.
    – Trilarion
    Apr 7 at 6:34

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