Pakistan’s Ruling Party to Choose Younger Sharif as Premier

  • Shehbaz Sharif will contest brother Nawaz’s vacated seat
  • Top Leadership names Abbasi as interim prime minister

Pakistan’s ruling party will nominate Punjab’s Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister ahead of elections next year, after his older brother resigned from the post following a historic Supreme Court ruling on Friday that barred him from office.

Shehbaz Sharif

Photographer: Asad Zaidi/Bloomberg

Shehbaz Sharif, 65, will step down from his current position heading the province which is the family’s heartland and vote bank, to contest Nawaz Sharif’s vacated National Assembly seat, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Chairman Raja Zafarul Haq said by phone. The party’s top leadership, including the elder Sharif, proposed former Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as a 45-day interim premier, a decision that will be endorsed by party lawmakers later on Saturday, Haq said.

The ruling party is moving fast to quell the political turmoil following Nawaz Sharif’s ousting, the second world leader to be felled by last year’s so-called Panama Papers leak. The five-member Supreme Court bench gave its unanimous verdict to disqualify the premier after a corruption probe found disparity between his family’s wealth and known sources of income.

Nawaz Sharif struck a defiant tone on Saturday addressing party lawmakers in the capital, Islamabad, where he confirmed his party’s nominations. He said he wasn’t disqualified by the court because of corruption, but rather because he failed to declare a directorship in a Dubai-based company run by his son. The former prime minister said he didn’t need to declare the position because he never drew a salary from the business.

“I was disqualified because I refused to resign under pressure,” Nawaz Sharif said.

His dismissal -- for the third time -- can also be seen as a setback for democracy in a country which has been ruled by the military for much of its 70-year history and has never seen a prime minister complete a full five-year term.

The armed forces -- which is Pakistan’s most powerful and organized institution -- has orchestrated coups in the past and controls the nuclear-armed nation’s foreign policy. Two members of the six member investigation team looking into the Sharif family’s wealth were drawn from the military’s intelligence agencies, which has raised eyebrows.

Family Affair

In 1999, General Pervez Musharraf removed Nawaz Sharif in a previous stint in power. Shehbaz Sharif was also Punjab’s chief minister at the time and was jailed along with his brother, joining him when exiled in Saudi Arabia.

Despite the damning investigation and Supreme Court ruling, a transition to Shehbaz Sharif will allow the family to continue its political dynasty for now. It will also extend Pakistan’s historical narrative of civilian governments being weakened in relation to the military, according to Gareth Price, a senior research fellow at London think-tank Chatham House.

“It’s the end of Nawaz as a political person, but not the end of his family,” said Price. “We’re kind of back to where we were -- everything continues on with civilian governments weakened because of links to corruption.”

— With assistance by Iain Marlow

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