Ousted pre­mier chooses brother to run Pak­istan

Move to re­quire spot elec­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - MEHREEN ZAHRA-MA­LIK In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by staff mem­bers of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

IS­LAM­ABAD, Pak­istan — Nawaz Sharif, the Pak­istani leader whom the Supreme Court re­moved from of­fice Fri­day on cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions, an­nounced pub­licly Sat­ur­day that he was choos­ing his younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, to be his longterm re­place­ment as prime min­is­ter and as the gov­ern­ing party’s stan­dard-bearer.

Over the past four years, as chief min­is­ter of Pun­jab prov­ince, Pak­istan’s most cru­cial po­lit­i­cal power base, Shehbaz Sharif, 65, has presided over a high-pro­file cam­paign of in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments and so­cial de­vel­op­ment pro­grams.

“Af­ter los­ing out on the le­gal front, Nawaz Sharif can­not af­ford to also com­pro­mise on the in­tegrity of his party,” said Rana Jawad, the news di­rec­tor of Pak­istan’s most pop­u­lar news chan­nel, Geo News. “Shehbaz is an ob­vi­ous choice to keep both the party united and carry brand Sharif for­ward.”

Where his older brother has been crit­i­cized in re­cent years for a low-en­ergy style in power, Shehbaz Sharif has nur­tured a nearly op­po­site rep­u­ta­tion.

He has be­come known for sur­prise in­spec­tion “raids” of hos­pi­tals or schools, even in Pun­jab’s smaller towns, and his aides de­scribe him as a worka­holic with a taste for 7 a.m. staff meet­ings.

But the choice is not with­out risk for the Shar­ifs’ party, the Pak­istan Mus­lim League.

Though he is seen as pop­u­lar, Shehbaz Sharif has also been dogged by ac­cu­sa­tions of po­lice bru­tal­ity un­der his watch as Pun­jab’s chief min­is­ter. And he has been crit­i­cized for do­ing too lit­tle to curb ex­trem­ist sec­tar­ian groups in the prov­ince.

There are long-term ques­tions about his health, as well. Over the years, Sharif has un­der­gone mul­ti­ple treat­ments for can­cer, in­clud­ing of the spinal cord.

His sup­port­ers in­sist that the hard-nosed style he was known for in early years has soft­ened some­what. And ad­vis­ers say that his med­i­cal chal­lenges over the years have driven his re­cent cam­paign of so­cial de­vel­op­ment.

In a state­ment to The New York Times on Fri­day night, be­fore his se­lec­tion was pub­licly con­firmed, Sharif ac­knowl­edged that he would be tak­ing the reins at a crit­i­cal and tur­bu­lent time.

“I will ac­cept what is best for the coun­try and the party,” he said. “Pak­istan has to move for­ward no mat­ter how great the ob­sta­cles in our path.”

Over the next 45 days, an­other Pak­istan Mus­lim League fig­ure — the cur­rent petroleum min­is­ter, Shahid Khaqan Ab­basi — will take over as in­terim prime min­is­ter. Shehbaz Sharif must step down as chief min­is­ter and win elec­tion to his brother’s seat in the Na­tional Assem­bly in a spot elec­tion, ex­pected in the com­ing weeks, be­fore tak­ing over as prime min­is­ter.

Ab­basi, a veteran law­maker and close ally of Nawaz Sharif, is ex­pected to be sworn in as prime min­is­ter af­ter a par­lia­men­tary vote next week. The Pak­istan Mus­lim League holds a com­fort­able ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment, guar­an­tee­ing Sharif’s nom­i­nee the win.

The ini­tial vic­tory for Sharif is nearly as­sured, given the party’s firm grasp on Pun­jab pol­i­tics. But in the com­ing year, the Shar­ifs’ ri­vals, and in par­tic­u­lar the for­mer cricket star and po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion leader Im­ran Khan, will seek to shake the Pak­istan Mus­lim League’s dom­i­nance in Pun­jab.

Be­cause of that, some see Shehbaz Sharif’s as­cent to the prime min­is­ter post as be­ing a bit of a gam­ble. At a time when Pun­jab pol­i­tics will be the fo­cus of fierce con­tests be­fore the 2018 na­tional elec­tions, tak­ing the prov­ince’s po­lit­i­cal king­pin out of the day-to-day man­age­ment of the cam­paign and pub­lic af­fairs there is not an ob­vi­ous choice.

“Shehbaz Sharif has a proven record of car­ry­ing out mega-de­vel­op­ment projects in Pun­jab and de­liv­er­ing what the com­mon man wants. Then why would you want to re­move him from there?” said Nus­rat Javed, a jour­nal­ist and long­time ob­server of Pun­jab pol­i­tics.

Shehbaz Sharif will also face tough scru­tiny of se­cu­rity abuses dur­ing his three sep­a­rate terms as Pun­jab chief min­is­ter.

He is also ac­cused of al­low­ing banned sec­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to thrive in Pun­jab. More re­cently, though, the au­thor­i­ties’ killing in July 2015 of that group’s leader, Ma­lik Ishaq, and some other mil­i­tant com­man­ders has been seen as an im­por­tant shift in Sharif ’s pol­icy to­ward mil­i­tants in his prov­ince.

Shehbaz Sharif is also seen as car­ry­ing one im­por­tant ad­van­tage over his older brother. Where Nawaz Sharif, whose sec­ond term was cut short by a mil­i­tary coup in 1998, has al­ways been feud­ing with the coun­try’s dom­i­neer­ing mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment, Shehbaz Sharif is con­sid­ered to have bet­ter re­la­tions with the gen­er­als. At mo­ments of cri­sis, his aides say, he has some­times been able to serve as a bridge be­tween the mil­i­tary and his brother’s gov­ern­ment.

But in other ways, there is still the po­ten­tial for con­flict with the mil­i­tary un­der a Shehbaz Sharif gov­ern­ment. Like his brother, Sharif has been par­tic­u­larly vo­cal about his de­sire to im­prove re­la­tions with archri­val In­dia, a move that is anath­ema to the army.

And there is also the mat­ter of his busi­ness deal­ings, of­ten wrapped up with his brother’s.

Shehbaz Sharif has so far been un­scathed by the dis­clo­sures in the Panama Papers doc­u­ment leak that led Pak­istan’s Supreme Court on Fri­day to dis­qual­ify his brother and or­der crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions of other fam­ily mem­bers. But in the court’s same ver­dict, the jus­tices also in­cluded an or­der to re­open a 2000 case into the Shar­ifs’ Hu­daibiya Pa­per Mills com­pany, which has been ac­cused of serv­ing in part as a money-laun­der­ing front for both Sharif brothers.

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