The Soapbox: Growing opposition challenges global leaders’ expanding power

The Soapbox is a weekly column by WSN’s news desk examining the major developments in world news and rounding up the stories we think are worth the read this week. Global consciousness for a global university.

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Susan Behrends Valenzuela

The Soapbox is a weekly news column rounding up stories worth reading for a global university. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Gabriel Hawthorne, Deputy News Editor

Pakistan’s prime minister removed by Parliament

Imran Khan, the former prime minister of Pakistan, was ousted by Parliament after losing a no-confidence vote on the morning of April 10. Khan has recently faced criticism for high inflation rates and dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

Khan gained prominence in the late 1970s as captain of Pakistan’s cricket team, which he led to a historic victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup. He married Jemima Goldsmith, a British heiress and screenwriter, in 1995. Khan has now added to his resume the role of the first Pakistani prime minister to be removed from office by a vote of no-confidence.

As prime minister, Khan has distanced Pakistan from the United States and formed closer ties with China and Russia. Despite promising to tackle government corruption in his campaign platform, he was accused of voter fraud, prompting opposition parties to rally against him. 

Khan dissolved parliament on April 3 in an attempt to block the no-confidence vote. Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Qasim Suri blocked the first vote of no-confidence on April 3 in an attempt to prevent what the ruling party has called a U.S.-led foreign conspiracy from interfering with Khan’s presidency. 

According to Suri, the vote violated Article 5 of the constitution, which requires loyalty to the state and obedience to the constitution. After the vote was blocked on April 3, opposition figures submitted a petition to the Supreme Court to determine the legality of obstructing the vote of no-confidence.

Pakistan’s Muslim League opposition party leader Shehbaz Sharif was selected as the new prime minster by Parliament on April 11 until the next election occurs in 2023. Elections will be held to replace the members of Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, who resigned in protest before the vote of no-confidence took place.

Khan is expected to run for prime minister in the next election. 

Tunisian parliament dissolved by the president

Tunisian President Kais Saied disbanded the country’s parliament on March 30 after lawmakers voted to block decrees established by Saied to strengthen his hold on the presidency. The parliament was initially suspended by Saied in July 2021, when he removed the prime minister and other government officials from office.

Before becoming president in 2019, Saied was a professor of constitutional law. Since Saied was elected, his policies have become more dictatorial, jailing opponents and suspending sections of the Tunisian constitution.

Nearly half of the original parliament members were present at the online meeting — in which the government was terminated — and claimed that Saied’s dissolution of parliament violated the country’s constitution. Saied called for investigations into the members of parliament who opposed his rule and accused them of a conspiracy against Tunisia’s security.

“We are living today, unfortunately, through a coup attempt, but it has failed,” Saied said before dissolving the parliament.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan released a statement on April 4 condemning Saied’s dissolution of the parliament. He referred to the Saied’s act as a “blow to the will of the Tunisian people.”

In response to Erdoğan’s statement, the Tunisian foregin minister Othman Jerandi tweeted that the Turkish ambassador had been summoned and that he spoke with Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

“I informed them of Tunisia’s rejection of President Erdoğan’s statement as interference in Tunisian affairs, and that relations between the two countries should be based on respect for the independence of the national decision and the choices of the Tunisian people alone, and that our country does not allow us to question its democratic path,” the tweet reads.

Turkey has a long history of supporting Tunisia’s government financially in the past, particularly during the Jasmine Revolution — a 28-day popular uprising against the Tunisian government against corruption and political repression.

Saied has been expanding his control of the Tunisian government in other ways. Since last year, he gave himself the power to legislate and rule by decree and took control of the judiciary branch.  

Sri Lankan protesters call for president to step down

Opposition to Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s handling of a growing economic crisis has sparked protests in the capital, Colombo. The president responded by calling for almost all members of his cabinet — which includes a few of his family members — to resign.

After a violent protest occurred in front of his residence, Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency, making it illegal for citizens to leave their houses. Demonstrations continued, however, and hundreds of people were arrested for violating curfew in western Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa revoked the state of emergency on April 6. 

Police forces used water cannons and tear gas against the protesters. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have reported that those arrested are being tortured while in custody.

“Sri Lankan authorities must respect peoples’ right to protest & refrain from using excessive force,” Amnesty International South Asia said on Twitter.

Rajapaksa’s administration is known for taking violent measures against citizens who criticize the government. His response to those defying the state of emergency exemplified his desire to maintain control.

Violent government forces have been prominent since the Sri Lankan Civil War, which ended in 2009 after over two decades of fighting between the government and the insurgent group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Since the end of the war, the government has expanded its authority and continues to exercise undemocratic rule.

After his election in 2020, Rajapaksa increased his power with a constitutional amendment which allowed him to dissolve parliament after half of its five-year term and prevent any investigations into him and his family members. In growing opposition to his presidency, governing party officials have called for an interim government to replace his leadership.

Contact Gabriel Hawthorne at [email protected]