Pak­istan elects Ab­basi as new PM

A place­holder for Sharif’s des­ig­nated suc­ces­sor

Kuwait Times - - LOCAL -

Pak­istan’s par­lia­ment elected rul­ing party loy­al­ist Shahid Khaqan Ab­basi as Prime Min­is­ter yes­ter­day, days after Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the Supreme Court after a cor­rup­tion probe. Ab­basi is seen as a place­holder for Sharif’s des­ig­nated suc­ces­sor, his younger brother Shah­baz, who must first be elected to the 342-mem­ber Na­tional As­sem­bly be­fore tak­ing the top of­fice.

Nom­i­nated by Sharif’s rul­ing Pak­istan Mus­lim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Ab­basi se­cured 221 votes, Speaker Sar­dar Ayaz Sadiq an­nounced on live tele­vi­sion. De­spite his elec­tion min­utes be­fore, the new pre­mier used his maiden speech to de­clare Nawaz Sharif “the prime min­is­ter of the peo­ple of Pak­istan”. “In­shal­lah (God will­ing) one day the real prime min­is­ter of this coun­try will come back and sit on this chair,” he said.

Sharif sup­port­ers in the as­sem­bly chanted slo­gans and waved plac­ards bear­ing larg­erthan-life im­ages of the de­posed pre­mier. Ab­sent from the as­sem­bly was op­po­si­tion leader Im­ran Khan, the crick­eter-turned-politi­cian who spear­headed the push against Sharif. Ab­basi, a long-time ally of Sharif, eas­ily won the ma­jor­ity re­quired to be­come prime min­is­ter in the PML-N dom­i­nated par­lia­ment, putting into mo­tion a process that is ex­pected to ul­ti­mately see a Sharif once again as Pak­istan’s pre­mier.

“Whether it’s 45 days or 45 hours, I am the prime min­is­ter of Pak­istan and I am here to work, not keep the seat warm,” Ab­basi con­tin­ued, re­fer­ring to the time limit on a by-elec­tion for Sharif’s old seat, which Shah­baz Sharif is ex­pected to fill. List­ing PML-N trade­mark is­sues such as in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects, he also vowed to crack down on tax evaders and pri­vate own­er­ship of au­to­matic weapons.

Nawaz Sharif was the 15th prime min­is­ter in Pak­istan’s 70-year history-roughly half of which has been spent un­der mil­i­tary rule-to be ousted be­fore com­plet­ing a full term. The top court sacked him Fri­day after an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions against him and his fam­ily, bring­ing his his­toric third term in power to an un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous end and briefly plung­ing the nu­clear-armed na­tion into po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty. Ob­servers have said it is un­clear whether the court’s rul­ing will al­low the ousted Sharif to run for of­fice again in the fu­ture.

Ab­basi is the for­mer fed­eral min­is­ter for petroleum and natural re­sources, and a busi­ness­man who launched the coun­try’s most suc­cess­ful pri­vate air­line, Air Blue. Ed­u­cated in the United States at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, he worked over­seas as an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer be­fore join­ing pol­i­tics and being elected to the Na­tional As­sem­bly six times.

He was ar­rested after the 1999 mil­i­tary coup led by General Pervez Mushar­raf, which ended Nawaz Sharif’s sec­ond term as PM, and was im­pris­oned for two years be­fore being re­leased. Prime Min­is­ter-in-wait­ing Shah­baz Sharif went into ex­ile in Saudi Ara­bia along with Nawaz after the coup.

Shah­baz re­turned to Pak­istan in 2007 and was elected chief min­is­ter in the fam­ily’s power base of Pun­jab in 2008, be­com­ing the long­est serv­ing top of­fi­cial in the prov­ince. A tough ad­min­is­tra­tor with a rep­u­ta­tion for pas­sion­ate out­bursts, he is known for us­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary poetry in speeches and pub­lic meet­ings and con­sid­ered by some to be a worka­holic. His scan­dalous re­la­tion­ships fu­elled head­lines in the past, but his mar­riage to au­thor Tehmina Dur­rani, his fifth wife, in 2003 has since damp­ened the me­dia frenzy.

Shah­baz has been so far largely un­scathed by claims about the lav­ish life­styles and lux­ury Lon­don prop­erty port­fo­lio of the Sharif dy­nasty, which have played out for months in the rau­cous news me­dia. It was an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the claims, which first erupted with the Panama Pa­pers leak last year, that even­tu­ally saw the Supreme Court oust Nawaz Sharif. He and his fam­ily have de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions. —AFP

— AFP/AP pho­tos

ISLAMABAD: Pak­istani sup­port­ers of the rul­ing Pak­istan Mus­lim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party cel­e­brate out­side the Par­lia­ment House after the elec­tion of a new prime min­is­ter. (IN­SET) Pak­istan’s pre­mier-des­ig­nate Shahid Khaqan Ab­basi is seen out­side the Par­lia­ment house.

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