Pakistan’s lawmakers voted in opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif as the country’s new prime minister on Monday, after Imran Khan was ousted at the weekend in a no-confidence vote over allegations of poor governance.
Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party and younger brother of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, received 174 out of 342 votes in Monday’s vote in parliament and is set to serve as prime minister until the next general election, which is expected to take place in 2023.
All of Khan’s lawmakers from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party resigned en masse in protest ahead of Monday’s vote, and there will now have to be urgent elections to replace them. Following the vote, Khan called on his supporters to take to the streets. His next rally is scheduled for April 16 in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan.
In a speech to parliament ahead of his swearing in, Sharif spoke of unity across the country, including his coalition government.
He said he would introduce a 10% increase in pensions and raise the monthly minimum wage rate to Rs 25,000 – equivalent to US $136 per month.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Sharif in a Twitter post that added: “India desires peace and stability in a region free of terror, so that we can focus on our development challenges and ensure the well-being and prosperity of our people.”
Sharif’s appointment as the 31st prime minister of Pakistan comes after widespread protests in support of Khan erupted across Pakistan late Sunday.
Tens of thousands took to the streets in key cities, including Lahore and Peshawar, to support the ousted leader. They chanted slogans against the United States – which Khan had claimed was involved in a conspiracy against him – and the country’s powerful military, which had seemed to withdraw its support from him.
Against this backdrop of political turmoil and a crumbling economy, Sharif now faces a challenging period as the country’s leader.
Unlike Khan, Sharif has maintained an amicable relationship with the military and was a popular chief minister of Pakistan’s politically important and most populous province of Punjab.
He was lauded for his ambitious administrative and infrastructure projects in the province, which saw advances in the education and industrial sectors.
Sharif was instrumental in driving the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and maintains a positive relationship with Beijing.
A member of the wealthy Sharif dynasty, which amassed millions by producing steel, his family was mired in scandal after his brother Nawaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison and handed a $10.5 million fine over corruption charges in 2018.
Shehbaz Sharif rejected the verdict, calling it “flawed” and “politically motivated.” Shehbaz Sharif is also facing charges for alleged corruption.
In recent months, Sharif had led a campaign to remove Khan as Pakistan’s leader over claims of economic mismanagement and poor governance. Along with the opposition, he had urged Khan to resign ahead of a no-confidence vote that was widely expected to dismiss Khan.
Tensions smoldered for days, with Khan repeatedly rejecting the criticism and instead claiming the moves against him were an attempt at regime change backed by Washington and some members of the opposition. The allegations were denied by both the US State Department and the Pakistani opposition.
In a dramatic series of events, the deputy speaker in parliament blocked the no-confidence vote against Khan. Khan then dissolved parliament and called for early elections. The opposition challenged Khan’s moves in Pakistan’s highest court, with Sharif calling them “nothing short of high treason.”
The court ruled last week that the blocking of the no-confidence vote against Khan was unconstitutional, paving the way for Sharif’s rise to power.