ISLAMABAD: The PML-N’s parliamentary party on Saturday named Shehbaz Sharif as the successor of the ousted prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and nominated former petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as an interim premier.
The announcement charts a way forward for the country after the Supreme Court deposed Sharif on Friday following an investigation into corruption allegations against him and his family. The ruling brought to an unceremonious end his historic third term in power and briefly plunged the country into political uncertainty.
“I support Shehbaz Sharif after me but he will take time to contest elections so for the time being I nominate Shahid Khaqan Abbasi,” Sharif said in a defiant and angry speech at the parliamentary party meeting which was broadcast live on state-run PTV.
Shehbaz — who has so far been unscathed by the corruption allegations engulfing his brother’s family — is currently the chief minister of Punjab and holds a provincial seat, so must be elected to the National Assembly before becoming the new prime minister.
Earlier in the day, the Election Commission of Pakistan confirmed fresh elections would be held in Sharif’s former constituency, NA-120, in a process which could take up to 45 days.
Considered more intelligent but less charismatic than his older brother, Shehbaz has controlled Punjab for much of the last decade, presiding over a series of big ticket infrastructure projects.
Abbasi is set to be rubber-stamped as placeholder in a parliamentary vote, with the PML-N commanding a majority in the 342-seat house. The vote would take place at 3pm on August 1, according to a schedule announced by the National Assembly Secretariat. “Nomination papers can be obtained on July 30 until 3pm, and could be submitted until 2pm on July 31,” it said.
For the election of new PM, a National Assembly session was summoned on August 1 at 3pm at Parliament House. President Mamnoon Hussain summoned the session in exercise of powers conferred by clause (1) of Article 54 of the Constitution, said a press release of the National Assembly secretariat.
The nomination of Shehbaz and Abbasi was made at the parliamentary party meeting which was ‘unofficially’ presided over Nawaz Sharif, who is constitutionally no longer president of the ruling party after being disqualified by the Supreme Court. Sources say the meeting was formally chaired by Senator Raja Zafarul Haq in his capacity as Chairman of the PML-N. Haq was seated next to Sharif.
Attendees at the meeting included the PML-N leaders from the Centre, Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh, K-P, Fata, AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who has been in the spotlight of late for having differences with the party leadership, also showed up at the meeting.
According to sources, the huddle was preceded by an informal meeting between the Sharif brothers where the names of four candidates — Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ayaz Sadiq — were considered for the office of interim prime minister. After the pair agreed on his name, they called Abbasi to inform him about the decision in the presence of Haq and a few other senior leaders.
Personally, sources say Sharif wanted Asif to become interim premier. Even though Asif, the former defence minister, doesn’t enjoy good relations with the security establishment, still Sharif favoured him in what would have been an obvious gesture that the ruling party didn’t want to mend fences with the establishment.
However, in the end Abbasi was preferred over Asif who, according to reports, is not in the good books of Shehbaz and other members of his camp, Nisar in particular. “It’s not the establishment factor or Iqamas [work permits] or anything else but internal rifts in the party that prevented Asif from getting the nod of approval,” a PML-N source told The Express Tribune.
Interestingly, prior to Saturday’s meeting Sharif had directed Asif, who is currently touring the United States, to cut short his visit and return to Pakistan immediately.
Ahsan Iqbal, on the other hand, was never a preferred candidate in comparison with Asif, Sadiq and Abbasi.
If Ayaz Sadiq, the incumbent speaker of the National Assembly, had been picked, then he would have to quit his office. Election for his successor would have been conducted through secret ballot — and this might have been a reason that the PML-N leadership picked Abbasi instead of Sadiq.
In the light of Article 226 of the Constitution, all elections, other than those of the prime minister and chief ministers, shall be held by secret ballot. At a time when the party is facing serious challenges, the conduct of speaker’s election through secret ballot could bring embarrassment for the PML-N as fears are abound that some party MPs could vote against the party’s candidate.
“There may be some elements in our party who could take advantage of the secret ballot and vote against the PML-N candidate for speakership knowing that no one would know who voted for whom,” one source told The Express Tribune.
Talking to PTV after the parliamentary party meeting, Abbasi reiterated that he would continue to follow Sharif’s vision for the timely completion of energy and infrastructure projects.
“The people of Pakistan have not accepted the disqualification of Sharif by the Supreme Court,” Abbasi said. “History will also reject this decision,” he added. “My nomination for the slot of prime minister was a party decision.”