Challenges Before New Pakistani PM

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Shehbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim league (N) became the 24th prime minister of Pakistan amid uncertainties, following general elections that formed a hung parliament in a country frequently plagued by unstable governments. 

Sharif, the younger brother of former three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, became prime minister of a coalition government for the second time, as the parliament could not give a majority government from the 266-member National Assembly, the lower house of the parliament of Pakistan. 

He was backed by Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of Bilawal Bhutto, the son of the famous former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.

He was declared prime minister on March 3 amidst uproar by the largest party in parliament, the Pakistan Tehreek E-Insaf party (PTI), which fell short of necessary 169 votes to form a government. Its MPs were not allowed to fight election on one election symbol, as was prevented by the country's Supreme Court, which denied its earlier symbol 'cricket bat', a symbol that very well depicted the fame of the party's president Imran Khan who came from the cricket background. Therefore, they stood in the election as independent candidates with different symbols.  

Vote rigging

The Pak parliament took a relatively longer time to form a government as parties made efforts to form government of their own wooing voters from the opposing parties. However, the PTI was reluctant to form any coalition with other parties, as it accused widespread vote rigging in the February 8 elections, targeting the PML-N and the PPP. Khan's party accuses the Pakistan army for stopping it from winning the election, and has also been charging it for his ouster from premiership in 2022. Khan is charged with corruption and misuse of state secrets and is serving a jail term of ten years, being accused of buying and selling gifts received in diplomatic visits abroad. He was arrested on May 9, 2023.

The newly elected prime minister garnered 201 votes in the parliament against 92 by his opponent Omar Ayub of Sunni Ittehad Council, who was supported by the PTI. 

The total number of the seats in the parliament is 336, of which 266 come from direct election. Sharif had earlier become prime minister replacing Imran Khan, after the latter lost a vote of no-confidence amid corruption charges. Khan had accused the army of ousting and arresting him with the backing of the USA. 

Another prominent leader in Pakistan supporting him is Bilawal Bhutto. He is the grandson of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who founded the PPP, but was executed in a coup by the then army chief Zia Ul Haq, who later became the president of Pakistan. 

Bilawal has served a term as the foreign minister of Pakistan from April 2022 to August 2023. He became the president of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), a centre-left political party of Pakistan, following the assassination of his mother in 2007. 

The party which was formerly socialist, espouses a social democratic state and a strong army. The party is also considered a strong party as it had already got four prime ministers from the party.

The Pakistan Muslim League (N) is a centre-right liberal conservative party in Pakistan and is second largest with 75 seats after PTI, which won 93 seats. Independent candidates including those backed by PTI had altogether 103 seats.  The PPP won 54 seats. The PML-N and PPP have vote bases in southern Sindh province, whereas, PTI garnered most votes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. 

Strong opposition

The new PM Shehbaz has many challenges before him, including ailing economy, year-round power outages, dependency on IMF bailout as well as on China and Saudi Arabia. He has to maintain relations responsibly with Taliban-ruled neighbouring Afghanistan and archrival India including on the longstanding Kashmir issue. As his is the second largest party and the largest party PTI will remain out of the government and has vowed to protest the present election results, he will have to face many challenges ahead while coping with it. He has also challenges in containing frequent militant attacks within the country.

With strong opposition in the parliament, the new PM Sharif will have to face a strong protest from the members of parliament on national issues mainly from PTI, besides having to face economic challenges, by maintaining balanced relations with the coalition partners. 

As critics label him as the puppet of the Pakistan army, he will have to face difficulty in coming out of Pakistan's internal quagmire for regional as well as international cooperation, in contrast to strong leader Narendra Modi in its vicinity, who seems stronger nationally and internationally. 

 (The author is former chief reporter and senior executive editor of RSS. tbhattaraee@yahoo.com)

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