ISLAMABAD: After 14 years out of power, Nawaz Sharif is poised to become prime minister again, and he is a man in a hurry to clean up what he calls Pakistan’s mess.
Sharif said on Saturday his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party was the clear winner in general elections and that he hoped for a majority to avoid a coalition.
He inherits a country with a dizzying array of troubles, from chronic power cuts to a Taliban insurgency.
“The challenges are huge,” the portly Sharif told Reuters in his bullet-proof car during the last days of campaigning. “We have to bail out the economy.”
Sharif, who vows to bring in free market enterprise and ease economic controls, says speedy growth is the only answer for nuclear-armed Pakistan, a strategic US ally.
The powerful military still calls the shots in Pakistan but the poll marked the first time that an elected government will replace another one. Nevertheless, Sharif will have to work with the generals, who control foreign policy and security.
The new civilian government will also have to play its part in Pakistan’s difficult relationship with the United States.
In addition, the economy is stuttering. Power cuts that can last all day have infuriated Pakistanis and crippled key industries. Corruption and poverty are rampant, and infrastructure is crumbling.
Sharif, who made his fortune in steel, seems to have matured as a politician since he was toppled by former army chief and president Pervez Musharraf in a bloodless coup in 1999.
As the main opposition leader, he avoided antagonising Pakistan’s powerful army, or bringing down the Pakistan People’s Party-led coalition government when it was in trouble.
Instead, he waited patiently for an opportunity to rule and now that his moment has come, he says he is in a hurry to fix Pakistan.
The honeymoon will be short.