ISLAMABAD (AP) – Opposition lawmaker Shahbaz Sharif was elected the new prime minister on Monday, following a week-long political turmoil that led to the ouster of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan over the weekend.
In a brief ceremony the sheriff was inaugurated inside the white marble palace known as the Presidency.
But his rise will not guarantee a peaceful path or solve many of the country’s economic problems, including high inflation and a growing energy crisis.
Sharif, the brother of ousted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, won by 174 votes after more than 100 lawmakers from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or Pakistan Justice Party resigned and walked out of the National Assembly.
That 174 votes – two more than the required simple majority – is enough to pass legislation in the 342-seat legislature. If Khan’s supporters take to the streets, he vows, it could create more pressure on lawmakers and deepen the crisis.
Khan, a former cricket star, was characterized by his conservative Islamic ideology and his independence from office for three years and eight months. He lost the confidence vote After being abandoned by his party allies and a key coalition partner.
Showing strength and a precursor to the coming political uncertainty, Khan rallied hundreds of thousands of supporters during Sunday night’s protests, describing the new leadership as an “imposed government” that had joined forces with the United States to oust him. His supporters marched in cities across Pakistan, waving big party flags and raising slogans promising to bring him back to power. The youth, who are the backbone of Khan’s supporters, dominated the crowd.
The political drama began on April 3 When Khan dissolved parliament and boycotted the initial no-confidence vote demanded by the opposition by calling early elections. The opposition, which accused Khan of economic misconduct, appealed to the Supreme Court. After four days of debate, the court ruled that Khan’s action was illegal and that a no-confidence vote had taken place, leading to his expulsion.
Khan has called for early elections – not before August 2023. He stirred up anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, accusing Washington of plotting with his opponents to overthrow him. That conspiracy theory resonates with his youth base, which unjustifiably targets Pakistan in the US war on terror after 9/11.
Khan says Washington opposes him because of his pro-China, pro-independence foreign policy. He was criticized for his visit to Moscow on February 24, where he met with President Vladimir Putin, as Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine.
The US State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistan’s internal politics.
China, Pakistan’s main ally and investor, said on Monday it would support any government.
“As Pakistan’s closest neighbor and iron-clad friend, we hope that all factions in Pakistan will remain united and work together for national stability and development,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Legion told a conference. “I would like to emphasize that China will adhere to the policy of friendship with Pakistan without compromising, regardless of the political situation in Pakistan.”
China has invested heavily in Pakistan in its multi-billion dollar global effort to connect South and Central Asia with Beijing.
India, Pakistan’s longtime rival, also sent congratulations to Sharif, saying Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “wants peace and stability” in his country. The two countries have been involved in three wars and are dangerously close to fourth place in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is divided between the two and claimed by both.
There are parties in the opposition coalition that cross the political divide, from the left to radical religion. The two major parties are the Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan People’s Party, led by Sharif, the son and husband of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007.
A few rich and powerful families have dominated Pakistani politics for decades, with power often shifting between the Sharif and Bhutto camps. Both political organizations have been accused of widespread corruption and have sometimes been punished. They have dismissed the allegations as politically motivated.
Nawaz Sharif, convicted of so-called financial frauds known as the Panama Papers, was fired by the Supreme Court in 2015 – a collection of secret financial documents showing how some of the world’s richest people have hidden their money. He was disqualified by the Panama Supreme Court.
Bhutto’s husband Asif Ali Zardari, who became Pakistan’s president after the 2008 election, has been jailed for more than seven years on corruption charges.
Khan came to power in 2018 promising to break the family rule in Pakistan, but his opponents say he was elected with the help of a powerful military that has ruled the country for half of its 75-year history.
Nawaz Sharif was ousted in a military coup in 1999, and Benazir Bhutto’s government was repeatedly ousted after the military sided with his opposition. In Pakistani politics, loyalty is often fluid, with Bhutto’s fierce opposition coming mostly from the sheriff’s party.
Shahbaz Sharif has served three terms as the head of Pakistan’s largest, most influential Punjab province, home to 60% of the country’s 220 million people. His son Hamza, who was elected as the new chief minister by the Punjab provincial parliament last week, ousted Khan’s candidate. Khan’s party is challenging that election, and the junior sheriff is not yet in office.
Contributed by Muneer Ahmed, writer of the Associated Press in Islamabad.
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