Fri | Apr 12, 2024
PAKISTAN

Shehbaz Sharif becomes new premier as Imran Khan’s allies allege rigging

Published:Monday | March 4, 2024 | 12:06 AM
In this photo released by the National Assembly office, Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (fourth left) delivers his speech following his appointment, at a parliament session, in Islamabad.
In this photo released by the National Assembly office, Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (fourth left) delivers his speech following his appointment, at a parliament session, in Islamabad.

ISLAMABAD (AP):

Lawmakers in Pakistan’s National Assembly on Sunday elected Shehbaz Sharif as the country’s new prime minister for the second time as allies of imprisoned former premier Imran Khan in parliament shouted in protest, alleging rigging in last month’s election.

Khan is currently serving prison terms in multiple cases and has been barred from seeking or holding office. Sharif replaced him as prime minister after his ouster in a no-confidence vote in parliament in April 2022.

Speaker Ayaz Sadiq said Sharif secured 201 votes, defeating Omar Ayub of the Sunni Ittehad Council who got 92 votes. The winner only needs 169 votes to get a majority.

Ayub was backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI, whose candidates could not get enough seats to form a government on their own. The PTI refused to hold talks with its rivals to form a coalition.

Following days of negotiations, Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party and his supporters formed an alliance after the February 8 election, which was overshadowed by militant violence, a nationwide mobile phone shutdown, Khan’s exclusion from the vote, and an unusual delay in announcing the result.

Authorities said cutting communications was necessary to avoid attacks on candidates and security forces.

However, the delay drew criticism from Khan’s party, which insists the vote was rigged to stop it from getting a majority. The party claims it has evidence that its victory “was stolen during the vote count”, a charge the Election Commission denies.

Sharif, in his acceptance speech in parliament Sunday, said, “We were subjected to political victimisation in the past, but never took any revenge.” Without naming Khan, he said the previous ruler jailed many political rivals, including himself and his ally Asif Ali Zardari.

He also accused Khan’s supporters of attacking military installations while protesting his ouster in 2022, adding that now parliament and the courts would decide whether those involved in attacking the military installations deserved a pardon.

Holding portraits of Khan, some lawmakers stood in front of Sharif when he began his speech, shouting “vote thief” and “shame”. Sharif denounced their actions, saying they were causing chaos in parliament. He also said they should present their evidence of vote rigging to the relevant authorities.

Sharif then addressed the opposition saying, “I am offering you reconciliation. Let us sit together to work for the betterment of Pakistan.” But he was greeted with more protests and shouts.

The premier also spoke of repairing ties with the United States. Relations between the two countries have been strained after Khan accused the US, Sharif and the Pakistani military of conspiring to keep him out of office, following his ouster.

Sharif also said his biggest challenge was the economic situation as Pakistan has been relying on foreign loans to run the economy. His government faces multiple issues, including how to respond to a surge in militant attacks, improve relations with the neighbouring, Taliban-run Afghanistan, repair crumbling infrastructure, and resolve year-round power outages. It must also maintain political stability as Khan’s party has vowed to continue protests against the alleged vote-rigging.

After losing to Sharif, Ayub addressed the parliament, commending “my leader” Khan for his “bravery” while facing the cases against him. He denounced the arrest of “thousands of Khan’s supporters” last year after they took to the streets following his ouster.

Ayub repeated the allegations of vote rigging and demanded a probe into last month’s poll. He said PTI votes were tampered with and “votes were stolen” to stop Khan’s party from forming a government.

He said Sharif can rule the country, but “he cannot win hearts and minds because he came to power through a rigged vote”.