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Pakistan: Shehbaz may become next PM as Nawaz’s temperament will not suit coalition govt, party insiders say

Image Source : AP/INDIA TV Pakistan election results: Who will be the next PM?

Islamabad: Pakistan’s two largest political parties were wrangling over who would be the Prime Minister after an inconclusive election last week forced them to join forces and try to form a coalition in a parliament dominated by independents. Former prime ministers Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif both declared victory on Friday, with independent candidates backed by the jailed Khan forming the largest group of 93 members of a total of 264 seats for which results were declared.

However, Khan could not become prime minister from jail and his grouping could not form a government as they nominally ran as independents as his party was barred from standing. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was the largest recognised party with 75 seats and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto, was second with 54.

Coalition government 

The two parties opened formal talks late on Sunday to form a coalition government, with a statement from PML-N saying the meeting was “constructive” and “both expressed commitment to putting nation’s interest and well-being above everything”. PML-N and PPP officials, however, said their talks were snagged over which leader would take the top job. “Both sides are interested in forming a coalition, but there is no breakthrough so far. Both parties want the office of prime minister,” a senior PML-N figure close to the Sharif family told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The PML-N has not named its prime ministerial candidate. Party insiders say Nawaz isn’t suited to a coalition because of his temperament. His younger brother, Shehbaz, led a coalition after Khan was ousted from power and is regarded as more accommodating.

Shehbaz Sharif may become PM

The PML-N source said it was “most likely” that Shehbaz Sharif, 72, who held the post for 16 months until August, will be chosen. He is the younger brother of party founder Nawaz Sharif, 74, who has been prime minister three times. Nawaz Sharif would have been the candidate only if the party had got a clear majority, the senior figure added. Ata Tarar, another senior PML-N figure, however, said that the party had not made a decision on its candidate.

To become prime minister, a candidate has to show they have a simple majority of 169 seats out of the 336-member National Assembly when it is called into session in the next few weeks. Some 70 seats are reserved for women and minorities, divided between parties on a proportional basis.

Election rigging allegations rejected 

The PPP has always maintained Bhutto Zardari as its political scion, and if successful, the 35-year-old former foreign minister will become Pakistan’s youngest premier since his mother Benazir. “Our party wants Bilawal as prime minister,” PPP leader Faisal Karim Kundi told Geo TV, adding that independents were joining his party. “No one can form a government without us.”

Some independent lawmakers, formerly of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), could join either party or form a coalition with a smaller party to try to block the two larger parties, analysts say. The PTI declined to comment about the lawmakers’ plans.

The vote was marred by a mobile internet shutdown on election day and unusually delayed results, leading to accusations that it was rigged and drawing concern from rights groups and foreign governments. Several political parties and candidates have called for protests against the results and PTI supporters blocked traffic in the northern city of Peshawar on Sunday.

Caretaker PM also rejected the allegations 

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar rejected the accusations and said there was no manipulation of results and no pressure on the election commission to deliver a particular result. He said Pakistan would not investigate allegations of election irregularities just because some foreign capitals had sought a probe and had its own laws to deal with any challenges.

The Election Commission of Pakistan blamed the mobile internet shutdown for the delay.

“The election commission rejects altogether the allegations of rigging in the polls,” it said in its first response to the accusations. A couple of such incidents cannot be denied and there are forums to address such cases, it said in a statement.

Mood of the nation: Protest across country

People are unhappy about the way the election unfolded and how votes were counted. Legal challenges are underway to contest some results. There are protests and allegations about vote rigging, with Khan’s supporters in particular angry about what they perceive as electoral theft. Police have used tear gas to disperse crowds and arrested dozens of people in sporadic demonstrations that have broken out across Pakistan. The international community and rights groups have expressed concern about voting irregularities.

What happens next

Pakistan’s president has to convene the inaugural session of the new National Assembly within 21 days of the election, or Feb. 29. Lawmakers are sworn in during that session. They submit nomination papers for a number of key roles, including the speaker and leader of the house. After these positions are filled, a new prime minister is elected through a parliamentary vote, a task that requires a simple majority.

(With inputs from agencies)

Also Read: Who will be next Prime Minister of Pakistan? Tussle continues as Shehbaz and Bhutto hold talk

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