Home / News / World /  Shehbaz Sharif as new PM? Pakistan set to elect a new leader today

Pakistan lawmakers are set to choose opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif as the next prime minister after former cricket star Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote that ended his four-year run.

A united opposition bloc cobbled together 174 lawmakers to vote against Khan after midnight Sunday in Islamabad, two more than required to remove him from office. Parliament convenes again on Monday to pick his replacement, after Khan rallied supporters in cities across the nation on Sunday night against what he called “U.S.-backed regime change."

Khan’s ouster came after a fallout with Pakistan’s army over a range of issues, including interference in military promotions, his rocky relationship with the U.S. and management of the economy that saw inflation rise at the second fastest pace in Asia. Pakistan’s military has ruled the country for almost half of its 75-year history, and no prime minister has completed a full term in that time.

The political shakeup in the world’s fifth-most populous nation is likely to immediately rebalance Pakistan’s foreign policy more toward the U.S. and Europe. Khan had shifted Pakistan closer to Russia and China, and sought to sabotage the no-confidence vote by claiming the Biden administration conspired with the opposition to remove him from power. 

A Sharif-led government is also likely to help secure about $3 billion left from an International Monetary Fund loan needed to bolster foreign reserves and the currency. The rupee is trading near a record low against the U.S. dollar and foreign currency reserves have dropped to the lowest in about two years, enough to cover a couple months of imports. The central bank surprised analysts last week with the biggest rate hike since 1996.

Sharif built a reputation as a business-friendly administrator who pushed ambitious infrastructure projects when he was chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan most populous province. He has maintained friendly ties with the army even as his older brother, three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, frequently clashed with the generals and is currently self-exiled in London. 

“No top Pakistani opposition leader has a closer relationship with the military than Shehbaz," said Michael Kugleman, senior associate for South Asia at the Washington-based Wilson Center. “He has avoided confrontational positions toward the military and tried to stay above the fray, and this has helped him enjoy a favorite son status."

In a sign the nation remained on edge, Pakistan’s military denied a BBC Urdu report that Khan sought to remove a senior army official before the no-confidence vote, calling it “totally baseless and pack of lies." Reuters separately reported the no-confidence vote went ahead after Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa met with Khan.

Khan’s opponents had accused the military of helping him win the 2018 election and then survive several attempts by parliament to remove him from power. Yet Khan fell out with top generals last year after he publicly objected to Bajwa’s choice to run Pakistan’s main intelligence agency that oversees internal security.

Khan hasn’t gone quietly. On Sunday night his supporters rallied across the nation, which he said was evidence that the people rejected his ouster. Khan has repeatedly called for a new election, which must be held by August 2023.

Last weekend, Khan’s party shocked Pakistan when one of his allies canceled the no-confidence vote over the foreign interference claims, after which Khan quickly called an election. Pakistan’s opposition called the move treasonous, as the constitution doesn’t allow parliament to be dissolved during a no-confidence debate.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court later rejected Khan’s rationale for scrapping the vote and ordered for the motion to proceed on Saturday. During the parliament session, Khan’s party triggered multiple adjournments by repeating claims without showing evidence that the U.S. wanted to oust his government -- an allegation the Biden administration has denied. 

When the vote finally took place, opposition lawmakers cheered and clapped as the numbers were called out. Television channels showed opposition party flags being waved on the streets and celebratory fireworks and gunfire sounded in Karachi and Islamabad.

Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf lawmakers plan to resign from the National Assembly after the new prime minister is sworn in, according to a tweet from Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, a close associate and member of parliament. That would add pressure on Shehbaz Sharif to call elections, said Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, a professor with the School of Politics and International Relations at Quid-i-Azam University. 

“It is the first time in our country that one-third of the parliament will resign," he said. “It will weaken the parliament."

 

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