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ISLAMABAD – Pakistan's parliament on Wednesday elected an ally of Imran Khan as its speaker, paving the way for the former cricket star to become the next prime minister even as he faced a new legal challenge amid a claim that he had fathered an illegitimate daughter in the United States.
The claim, based on a petition by a private citizen, is to be heard in an Islamabad court on Thursday though no immediate decision is expected against Khan. The petitioner, Abdul Wahab Baloch, alleges Khan should be disqualified as premier for failing to declare the child.
Khan, who acquired a reputation as a playboy during his international cricket career, has faced similar allegations from political opponents in the past and has steadfastly denied them. In 1997, a U.S. court ruled that Khan had fathered a child in America.
Earlier this year, Khan married faith healer Bushra Maneka. He has previously been married to socialite Jemima Goldsmith and journalist Reham Khan and was twice divorced.
Meanwhile, the 342-seat National Assembly — Pakistan's decision-making, lower house of parliament — elected Asad Qaiser, a lawmaker from Khan's Tahreek-e-Insaf party, as parliament speaker. Qaiser secured 176 votes, edging out Khusheed Shah, a joint opposition candidate who got 146 votes. Another Khan nominee, Qasim Suri, was elected deputy speaker.
The votes in parliament indicated that Khan's party, which won the most seats in the July 25 election but fell short of an outright majority, has allied with enough independents to form a governing coalition. The National Assembly is expected to elect Khan as prime minister on Friday; his swearing-in ceremony is expected on Saturday.
Since the elections, opposition parties have held regular protests, refusing to accept the outcome of the vote and accusing the military and intelligence agencies of intervening on Khan's behalf.
Shortly after Qaiser's election, lawmakers from the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was removed from power and jailed on corruption allegations, chanted slogans against the elections oversight body.
"We say no to fake mandate," they chanted.
Khan smiled and remained seated during the commotion. Qaiser delivered a brief speech in which he sought to pacify the opposition, saying he would treat all lawmakers fairly.
The assembly vote came hours after authorities presented Sharif before an anti-graft tribunal in connection with two corruption cases. His supporters say authorities humiliated him by bringing him to the court in an armored vehicle.
Fawad Chaudhry, the spokesman for Khan's party, said Khan does not plan to move into the prime minister's residence and will instead work from a smaller official residence in a show of austerity.