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Saturday April 20, 2024

PM Shehbaz’s challenges

Sharif bagged 201 votes compared to the PTI-backed Sunni Ittehad Council’s Omar Ayub who obtained 92 votes

By Editorial Board
March 04, 2024
Prime Minister of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharifs image released by the PML-N on his election as 24th premier of the country on March 3, 2024. — Facebook/PML(N)
 Prime Minister of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharif's image released by the PML-N on his election as 24th premier of the country on March 3, 2024. — Facebook/PML(N)

The National Assembly on Sunday elected the PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif as the 24th elected prime minister of Pakistan, making him the only Pakistani politician to be elected as prime minister for the second consecutive time. Sharif bagged 201 votes compared to the PTI-backed Sunni Ittehad Council’s Omar Ayub who obtained 92 votes. As expected, the PTI-SIC lawmakers caused a commotion and chanted slogans to disrupt Shehabz’s maiden speech as the new PM-elect. Shehbaz thanked his brother Mian Nawaz Sharif for nominating him and the allied parties for their support, emphasized how the work ahead is difficult but not impossible and also spoke about not following a politics of revenge. He also talked about unity, how the debt crisis haunts Pakistan, how electricity and gas prices are a burden for the common people, and problems being faced by farmers, among other things. Shehbaz said he would bring investment into the country, vowed to end terrorism and its roots, announced visa-free entry into Pakistan for brotherly countries, and called out the international community for its silence on the Middle East and Occupied Kashmir. Shehbaz Sharif’s speech was long but overall focused on issues being faced by the country. Expectedly, he again brought up May 9 and its perpetrators in the speech – something he did as PM in his previous tenure as well. But encouragingly, the newly elected prime minister also spoke of how the missing persons issue is the main concern in Balochistan.

In his second stint as prime minister now, Shehbaz Sharif is seen as being better at dealing with difficult situations, especially when it comes to taking allied parties along. The previous PDM government had to face many difficulties in its short 16-month stint but Shehbaz’s reconciliation policy is what made him complete his tenure despite what was happening outside parliament. Let’s not forget what Shehbaz faced at that time: Imran Khan derailing the IMF programme before he was ousted through the vote of no-confidence, PTI-peddled conspiracy theories regarding the cipher leading to the party’s popularity, the Supreme Court’s reinterpretation of Article 63A that led to the PML-N losing its government in Punjab because of by-polls, Ishaq Dar’s decision to delay the IMF programme bringing the country to the verge of default, and so on. The PML-N became unpopular because of the incumbency factor. Now, in this current stint, Shehbaz Sharif is back as PM. And he yet again faces a difficult PTI – made even more agitated by the way Election 2024 has been mismanaged and made controversial. However, despite the PTI-backed candidates winning more seats in the NA than the PML-N or PPP, Shehbaz has successfully formed a new government with help from the PPP. And now the real challenge for PM Shehbaz will begin.

This real challenge is of course the economy. How Shehbaz manages to fix it is what will determine the progress of this government. Pakistan will have to go into a new IMF programme soon, which will lead to more difficulties for the people. It is this aspect the government will have to deal with. And the PTI will not be helping matters; the party has a track record of creating chaos, especially when in opposition. They will do it inside parliament and also outside on the streets. In these polarizing times, it will be important to see how Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif manages to keep his allies together and also maintain a working relationship with the opposition.