ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan’s ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif named his brother Shahbaz, the chief minister of Punjab province, as his successor and nominated ex-oil minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as an interim premier in a defiant speech Saturday (July 29).
The announcement charts a way forward for Pakistan after the Supreme Court deposed Sharif Friday following an investigation into corruption allegations against him and his family.
The ruling brought to an unceremonious end his historic third term in power and briefly plunged the country into political uncertainty.
“I support Shahbaz Sharif after me but he will take time to contest elections so for the time being I nominate Shahid Khaqan Abbasi,” Sharif said in a televised speech to his party.
The younger Sharif – who has so far been unscathed by the corruption allegations engulfing his brother’s family – holds only a provincial seat, so must be elected to the national assembly before becoming the new prime minister.
Earlier Saturday the Election Commission of Pakistan confirmed fresh elections would be held in Nawaz Sharif’s former constituency, in the family’s power base of Punjab province, in a process which could take up to 45 days.
Considered more intelligent but less charismatic than his older brother, Shahbaz Sharif has controlled Punjab – Pakistan’s most populous and prosperous province – for much of the last decade, presiding over a series of big ticket infrastructure projects.
Abbasi is set to be rubber-stamped as placeholder in a parliamentary vote, with Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) commanding a majority in the 342-seat house. There was no immediate confirmation of when the vote would take place.
An electrical engineer and the businessman who launched Pakistan’s most successful private airline, Air Blue, Abbasi is considered a highly-intelligent Sharif loyalist who has been elected to the national assembly six times since 1988.
The opposition could also field a candidate for the premiership, though the nominee has little chance of getting sufficient votes.
Nawaz Sharif became the 15th prime minister in Pakistan’s 70-year history – roughly half of which was under military rule – to be ousted before completing a full term.
In his televised speech to PML-N parliamentary members Saturday, he angrily denounced the ruling and warned the country was “descending into chaos”.
“I have no regrets... I will continue to fight for my vision of Pakistan,” he said.
The Supreme Court said in its judgement Friday that it was disqualifying Sharif for failing to disclose his monthly salary of 10,000 dirhams (S$3,600) from a company owned by his son in the United Arab Emirates.
Sharif did not withdraw the salary, court documents show, but the five-member bench ruled his failure to disclose its existence meant he was not “honest” – a requirement for Pakistani politicians under the country’s Constitution.
The decision sent his political opponents into the streets handing out sweets and beating drums in celebration. Opposition leader Imran Khan, who has spearheaded the push against Sharif, hailed the verdict as ushering in a new dawn for Pakistan.
But Pakistanis were divided on whether it set the country’s democratic progress back, with supporters and commentators and lamenting the ousting of a democratically elected premier on a “technicality” in what some termed a “judicial coup”.
Sharif’s link to the UAE company was exposed as part of an investigation into corruption allegations against his family that erupted as a result of the Panama Papers leak last year.
The publication of 11.5 million secret documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca documenting the offshore dealings of many of the world’s rich and powerful implicated three of Sharif’s four children – daughter Maryam and sons Hasan and Hussein.
Claims about the lavish lifestyles and luxury London property portfolio of the Sharif dynasty played out for months in endless loops in the country’s raucous news media.
Bribery and other forms of graft are endemic in Pakistan. The PML-N has consistently and noisily denied the accusations, insisting that the dynasty’s wealth was acquired legally through Sharif family businesses in Pakistan and the Gulf.