Shehbaz Sharif to become Pakistan’s prime minister as elder brother steps aside

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, addresses the 23rd Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit, hosted virtually by India, in Islamabad, Pakistan July 4, 2023. Press Information Department (PID)/Handout via REUTERS/file photo

Shehbaz Sharif is poised to begin a second term as Pakistan’s prime minister in the coming days, reclaiming the position he held until August when parliament was dissolved ahead of last week’s elections.

At 72 years old, Sharif has been chosen by his party and coalition allies to lead the nuclear-armed nation, despite his elder brother and three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif winning a seat in the assembly and being the favourite for a fourth term.

In a post on X, Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam stated that her father declined to lead a minority coalition government, preferring clear majorities as he had in his previous terms. Although their Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party controls only 80 seats in the 264-seat parliament, they have secured promises of support from six other parties to obtain a majority.

Shehbaz Sharif played a pivotal role in maintaining a coalition of diverse parties for 16 months after the ousting of former premier and rival Imran Khan in 2022, and in finalizing a last-minute deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2023.

Assuming office as prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif reconciled with the powerful military, setting aside differences to confront their mutual adversary, Khan, who clashed with top generals over policy disparities. Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif remained in self-imposed exile in London, disqualified from holding public office.

Prior to his tenure as prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif was recognized more for his administrative skills than his political acumen, having served as chief minister three times in Punjab, the country’s largest province.

As prime minister, he quickly assumed the role of mediator between coalition parties often at odds over key policies. His significant achievement during his brief tenure was securing an IMF bailout when Pakistan faced imminent debt default. However, his administration also witnessed soaring inflation and currency depreciation due to structural reforms mandated by the IMF.

Pakistan continues to grapple with economic turmoil, with high inflation and sluggish growth. Sharif faces the challenge of securing another IMF bailout as the current programme nears expiration, while also fostering ties with the military and pursuing privatization and foreign investment to alleviate the crisis.

Despite the military’s historical interference in politics, Sharif is seen as more acceptable to the generals compared to his brother. He will also need to navigate relations with key allies like the U.S. and China, as well as address strained ties with neighbouring countries.

Born into a wealthy Kashmiri-origin family in Lahore, Sharif began his political career as Punjab’s chief minister in 1997, earning a reputation for his proactive administrative style. He rose to national prominence when his brother was ousted in a military coup in 1999, subsequently leading the PML-N after Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification in 2017.

Married twice, Shehbaz Sharif has two sons and two daughters from his first marriage, with one son involved in politics. His second wife, Tehmina Durrani, is a renowned author known for her autobiography, “My Feudal Lord.”

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