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Shahbaz Sharif Sworn in as Pakistan’s New Prime Minister After Week of Drama

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ISLAMABAD—Pakistan’s parliament elected opposition lawmaker Shahbaz Sharif as the new prime minister Monday, following a week of political turmoil that led to the weekend ouster of Premier Imran Khan.

Sharif took the oath of office inside the stately, white marble palace known as the Presidency in a brief ceremony.

Sharif, the brother of disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, won with 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 in protest.

Those 174 votes—two more than the required simple majority—are enough to pass laws in the 342-seat assembly. If Khan’s followers take to the streets, as he has vowed, it could create more pressure on lawmakers and deepen the crisis.

Khan was ousted early Sunday. He lost a no-confidence vote after being deserted by his party allies and a key coalition partner.

Khan rallied hundreds of thousands of supporters in protests Sunday night, describing the new leadership as an “imposed government” that colluded with the United States to oust him. His backers marched in cities across Pakistan, waving large party flags and shouted slogans promising to return him to power. The crowds were dominated by youths who make up the backbone of Khan’s supporters.

Pakistan Politics
Supporters of deposed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party participate in a rally to condemn the ouster of their leader’s government, in Karachi, Pakistan, on April 10, 2022. (Fareed Khan/AP Photo)

The political drama began April 3 when Khan sidestepped an initial no-confidence vote demanded by the opposition by dissolving parliament and calling early elections. The opposition, which accuses Khan of economic mismanagement, appealed to the Supreme Court. After four days of deliberations, the court said Khan’s move was illegal and the no-confidence vote went ahead, leading to his ouster.

Khan has demanded early elections—the balloting is not due before August 2023.

Khan claims Washington opposes him because of his independent foreign policy favoring China and Russia. He was criticized for a visit he made on Feb. 24 to Moscow, where he met with President Vladimir Putin as Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine.

The U.S. State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistan’s internal politics.

The opposition coalition consists of parties that cross the political divide. The two largest parties are the Pakistan Muslim League, headed by Sharif, and the Pakistan People’s Party, co-chaired by the son and husband of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister who was killed in 2007.

A few wealthy and powerful families have dominated Pakistan’s politics for decades, with power most often alternating between the Sharif and the Bhutto camps. Both political houses have been accused of and at times convicted of widespread corruption. They have dismissed the allegations as being politically motivated.

Nawaz Sharif was unseated by the Supreme Court in 2015 after being convicted of financial irregularities revealed in the so-called Panama Papers—a collection of leaked secret financial documents showing how some of the world’s richest hide their money and involving a global law firm based in Panama. He was disqualified from holding office by the Supreme Court.

Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s husband who served as president of Pakistan after the 2008 election, has spent more than seven years in prison, convicted on corruption charges.

Khan, a former cricket star, came to power in 2018, promising to break the pattern of family rule in Pakistan, but his opponents said he was elected with help from the powerful military, which has ruled the country for half of its 75-year history.

Imran Khan
Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, arrives during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at the Beijing National Stadium in Beijing on Feb. 4, 2022. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Nawaz Sharif was also ousted in 1999, in a military coup, and Benazir Bhutto’s government was ousted several times after the military sided with her opposition. In Pakistani politics, where loyalties are often fluid, Bhutto’s fiercest opposition often came from Sharif’s party.

Shahbaz Sharif has served three times as chief minister of Pakistan’s largest, most influential Punjab province, home to 60 percent of the country’s 220 million people. His son, Hamza, was elected last week as the new chief minister by the Punjab provincial parliament, ousting Khan’s nominee. Khan’s party is challenging that election, and the younger Sharif has yet to be sworn in.

The Associated Press

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