Sheikh Baz Sharif was elected as Pakistan’s new prime minister on Monday, marking the return of the country’s two main political dynasties to power and influence after the dramatic ousting of former cricketer Imran Khan over the weekend.
Sharif is the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Party and brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was removed from office by the Supreme Court in 2017 for undeclared wealth.
In a poetic speech after his election, Sharif accused Khan’s government of being “corrupt, incompetent and lazy”, but also sounded some conciliatory notes. “If we want to move our country forward, it has to be through dialogue, not deadlock,” he said.
The overthrow of Khan on Sunday was a victory for Pakistan’s main political family, the Sharif and Bhutos, who were once sworn enemies but united against the former sports superstar after he won an election in 2018.
“Welcome back to old Pakistan,” said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party and son of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. “Democracy is the best revenge.”
Pakistan has been ruled by the military for about half of its existence since its founding in 1947, while the Bhutos and Sharif families have led several civilian governments since the 1970s.
The election of Sharif, the former chief minister of Pakistan’s most populous province of Punjab, ends a period of high constitutional uncertainty in the nuclear-armed country of 220 million people.
Khan sought to avoid a no-confidence motion by dissolving parliament after losing support from coalition allies and some lawmakers in his own party.
The Supreme Court ruled the move unconstitutional and ordered parliament to debate the motion, paving the way for Khan to become the first Pakistani prime minister to be ousted in a vote of no confidence.
Sharif delivered his victory speech in a nearly empty room, underscoring Pakistan’s stark political divisions. Khan’s 168 allies in the 342-seat National Assembly have withdrawn from the protests, while the remaining 174 voted for Sharif to take office.
Analysts say Khan could now become a very disruptive force against Sharif’s new government. Huma Bagai, an associate professor at the Karachi School of Business Administration, said Khan’s “term as prime minister is over, but his politics may come out stronger”.
Khan sought to tap into a reservoir of anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and insisted without showing evidence that his removal was orchestrated by the United States. Washington has vehemently denied seeking regime change.
“The freedom struggle begins again today against foreign regime change conspiracies,” Khan tweeted on Sunday. That night, his supporters protested his ouster in large numbers.
Khan “started agitating right away”, said Ayaz Amir, a former lawmaker from Sharif’s party who is now an independent lawmaker. “He’s not going to let the political system settle down.”
Hassan Askari Rizvi, the former chief minister of Pakistan’s most populous province of Punjab, said blaming the United States could be good for Khan.
“In parts of Pakistan, anti-Americanism is sold to the public, such as along the Afghan border,” Rizvi said, adding that Khan has the potential to become a powerful opposition leader.
“[His] The future depends on how well the new government can respond to popular grievances. . . it’s not easy,” Rizvi said.
Pakistan’s next general election cycle is scheduled to begin with the dissolution of parliament in August 2023, but electoral authorities will have to decide whether to hold by-elections soon after dozens of Khan’s coalition MPs resign.
Sharif will have to deal with enormous pressure on the Pakistani economy.
Pakistanis have endured months of double-digit inflation as global commodity prices have soared. Food prices rose 13 percent in March from a year earlier, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.
Khan had sparred with the International Monetary Fund over a $6 billion loan program that included unpopular measures such as higher fuel tariffs.
“Our economy is facing extreme difficulties. It is a very serious situation, but it must and will get better,” Sharif told parliament.
Nasir Ali Shah Bukhari, head of brokerage KASB, said Sharif’s experience working in the family metal business before entering politics would reassure the business world. “He is a businessman himself and has a thorough understanding of the challenges facing businessmen,” Buhari said.
Sharif and his brother Nawaz have been plagued by corruption allegations they say are politically motivated. Nawaz was jailed for seven years for corruption in 2019 when he was granted special permission to travel to the UK for medical treatment. He has remained in the UK ever since.
Much may depend on whether Sharif and Bhutto can maintain the alliance.
Asfan Dialmir, an expert at the U.S. Institute for Peace, said the two families found common cause as Pakistan’s powerful military sought to reduce their influence. “The military has deep contempt for both parties,” Mill said. “So I doubt they’ll work together . . . they realize that Khan is their mutual competitor and that he can make a comeback.”