‘Welcome back to old Pakistan’: Imran Khan’s overthrow marks return of political dynasties

Shehbaz Sharif was elected Pakistan’s new prime minister on Monday, marking the return to power and influence of the nation’s two main political dynasties after former cricketer Imran Khan was ousted over the weekend. .

Sharif is the leader of the Pakistan-Nawaz Muslim League party and the brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who removed from office by the high court in 2017 for undeclared wealth.

In a woven speech after his election, Sharif accused Khan’s government of “corruption, incompetence and permissiveness”, but also offered some conciliatory remarks. “If we want to move our country forward, it must be through dialogue, not stalemate,” he said.

Sunday’s ouster of Khan was a victory for Pakistan’s leading political families, the Sharifs and Bhuttos, who were once bitter rivals but united in an alliance against the former sports superstar after he won the election in 2018.

“Welcome back to old Pakistan,” said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, leader of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party and son of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. “Democracy is the best revenge.”

Pakistan has been ruled by the military for about half of its existence since the nation’s founding in 1947 while the Bhuttos and Sharifs have led many civilian governments since the 1970s.

The election of Sharif, the former governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, ended a period of constitutional instability in the nuclear-armed nation of 220 million people.

After losing the support of his coalition ally and some lawmakers in his party, Khan sought to avoid a movement of no-confidence by dissolving parliament.

The Supreme Court ruled the move unconstitutional and ordered parliament to debate the move, paving the way for Khan to become the first Pakistani prime minister to be removed by a vote of no confidence.

Highlighting Pakistan’s stark political divisions, Sharif delivered her victory speech in a nearly empty room. 168 of Khan’s allies in the 342-seat Parliament left in protest, prompting the remaining 174 to vote for Sharif for office.

Analysts say Khan could now become a highly disruptive force against Sharif’s new government. Huma Baqai, an associate professor at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, said “Khan’s term as prime minister is over, but his politics could become stronger”.

Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in a press conference

Sharif, center, with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, left, during a news conference with other party leaders in Islamabad last week © Aamir Qureshi / AFP / Getty Images

Khan sought to exploit reservoirs of anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and asserted, without providing evidence, that his removal was orchestrated by the United States. Washington has strongly denied seeking regime change.

“The struggle for freedom begins again today against foreign plots for regime change,” Khan posted on Twitter Sunday. His supporters protested in large numbers against his ouster that evening.

Ayaz Amir, a former lawmaker from the Sharif party who is now independent, said Khan “is prone to immediate agitation”. “He will not allow this political system to stabilize.”

Hasan Askari Rizvi, former governor of Punjab, said that the US could play well for Khan.

“In parts of Pakistan, anti-Americanism is sold to the public, such as areas along the Afghan border,” said Rizvi.

“[His] The future depends on how well the new government can respond to popular grievances. . . Rizvi said.

Pakistan’s next general election cycle is slated to begin with the dissolution of parliament in August 2023, but the electoral authorities will have to decide whether to hold by-elections as soon as the resolutions. Allied soldier Khan resigned.

A man reads a newspaper with the headline 'The End' after Imran Khan lost a vote of no confidence in parliament
The overthrow of Imran Khan is a victory for Pakistan’s leading political families © Shahzaib Akber/EPA/Shutterstock

Sharif will face intense strain on the Pakistani economy.

With global commodity prices soaring, Pakistanis have endured months of double-digit inflation. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, food prices increased 13% year-on-year.

Khan argued with the IMF over a $6 billion loan program, which included imposing unpopular measures such as fuel tax hikes.

“Our economy faces extreme difficulties. It is a very serious situation but it must and it will change for the better,” Sharif told parliament.

Nasir Ali Shah Bukhari, head of brokerage firm KASB, said Sharif’s experience working in his family’s metals business before he entered politics would reassure the business community. “He is an entrepreneur himself and has a thorough understanding of the challenges entrepreneurs face,” says Bukhari.

Sharif and his brother Nawaz have been dogged by allegations of corruption, which they say are politically motivated. Nawaz was serving a seven-year prison sentence for corruption when he was given special permission to travel to the UK for medical treatment in 2019. He has remained in the UK since.

Much may depend on whether the Sharifs and Bhuttos can maintain their alliance.

Asfandyar Mir, an expert at the American Institute for Peace, said the two families find a common cause that Pakistan’s powerful military seeks to reduce their influence. “The military has a profound disdain for both of these political parties,” Mir said. “So I doubt they will work together. . . they realized Khan was the common rival they had, and he could be back.”

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