ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s parliament elected ruling party loyalist Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as prime minister yesterday, days after Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the Supreme Court after a corruption probe. Abbasi is seen as a placeholder for Sharif’s designated successor, his younger brother Shahbaz, who must first be elected to the 342-member National Assembly before taking the top office.
Nominated by Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Abbasi secured 221 votes, Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq announced on live television. Despite his election minutes before, the new premier used his maiden speech to declare Nawaz Sharif “the prime minister of the people of Pakistan”. “Inshallah (God willing) one day the real prime minister of this country will come back and sit on this chair,” he said.
Sharif supporters in the assembly chanted slogans and waved placards bearing larger-than-life images of the deposed premier. Absent from the assembly was opposition leader Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician who spearheaded the push against Sharif. Abbasi, a long-time ally of Sharif, easily won the majority required to become prime minister in the PML-N dominated parliament, putting into motion a process that is expected to ultimately see a Sharif once again as Pakistan’s premier.
“Whether it’s 45 days or 45 hours, I am the prime minister of Pakistan and I am here to work, not keep the seat warm,” Abbasi continued, referring to the time limit on a by-election for Sharif’s old seat, which Shahbaz Sharif is expected to fill. Listing PML-N trademark issues such as infrastructure projects, he also vowed to crack down on tax evaders and private ownership of automatic weapons.
Nawaz Sharif was the 15th prime minister in Pakistan’s 70-year history-roughly half of which has been spent under military rule-to be ousted before completing a full term. The top court sacked him Friday after an investigation into corruption allegations against him and his family, bringing his historic third term in power to an unceremonious end and briefly plunging the nuclear-armed nation into political uncertainty. Observers have said it is unclear whether the court’s ruling will allow the ousted Sharif to run for office again in the future.
Abbasi is the former federal minister for petroleum and natural resources, and a businessman who launched the country’s most successful private airline, Air Blue. Educated in the United States at George Washington University, he worked overseas as an electrical engineer before joining politics and being elected to the National Assembly six times.
He was arrested after the 1999 military coup led by General Pervez Musharraf, which ended Nawaz Sharif’s second term as PM, and was imprisoned for two years before being released. Prime Minister-in-waiting Shahbaz Sharif went into exile in Saudi Arabia along with Nawaz after the coup.
Shahbaz returned to Pakistan in 2007 and was elected chief minister in the family’s power base of Punjab in 2008, becoming the longest serving top official in the province. A tough administrator with a reputation for passionate outbursts, he is known for using revolutionary poetry in speeches and public meetings and considered by some to be a workaholic. His scandalous relationships fuelled headlines in the past, but his marriage to author Tehmina Durrani, his fifth wife, in 2003 has since dampened the media frenzy.
Shahbaz has been so far largely unscathed by claims about the lavish lifestyles and luxury London property portfolio of the Sharif dynasty, which have played out for months in the raucous news media. It was an investigation into the claims, which first erupted with the Panama Papers leak last year, that eventually saw the Supreme Court oust Nawaz Sharif. He and his family have denied the accusations. – AFP