Pakistan elects Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as interim prime minister | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 01.08.2017
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Pakistan elects Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as interim prime minister

Former Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has been elected as Pakistan's interim prime minister. Ousted PM Nawaz Sharif's brother Shahbaz is expected to take over in September and continue until the 2018 election.

The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party had nominated Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (above photo), the petroleum minister in former PM Nawaz Sharif's cabinet, to succeed the ousted premier for an interim period.

Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz's younger brother and chief minister of the Punjab province, is expected to take over from Abbasi in September. Shahbaz will have to resign from his seat in the Punjab assembly and contest a by-election for the seat left vacant after his elder brother's disqualification. Sharif's party will have to nominate Shahbaz's successor as Punjab's chief minister.

Abbasi's election as interim prime minister was almost certain because of the ruling party's majority in the National Assembly (the lower house of parliament). Also, the opposition parties had failed to nominate a joint candidate against Abbasi.

Abbasi was backed by 221 legislators in the 341-strong National Assembly, whereas opposition leader Imran Khan's candidate, Sheikh Rashid, received 33 votes. Pakistan People's Party's premiership candidate, Naveed Qamar, got 47 votes.

Nawaz Sharif Rede in Lahore (picture alliance/AP Photo)

Nawaz and Shahbaz (R) started their political careers together in the early 1980s under the tutelage of former military dictator Zia ul-Haq

Prior to his election, Abbasi told media that he would continue with the policies of former PM Nawaz Sharif.

Cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan derided the choice of Abbasi and Shahbaz Sharif as Nawaz's successors, comparing the country's tradition of political dynasties to "a form of monarchy."

Corruption trials

On July 28, Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by the Islamic country's Supreme Court in a case related to the Panama Papers that showed three of Sharif's children as having links with offshore companies holding properties in London.

In a historic ruling, a five-judge Supreme Court panel found Sharif guilty of not declaring his financial assets, although not directly in connection with the Panama Papers controversy. The corruption cases have been referred to an accountability court. The former prime minister and his family have consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Interim premier Abbasi is also facing a corruption inquiry by the National Accountability Bureau. Abbasi is accused in a 2015 case of awarding illegal contracts for the import of liquefied natural gas.

"Abbasi's interim period will be full of legal complications. Opposition parties will use the cases against him to unseat him," Mazhar Abbas, a senior Pakistani journalist, told DW.

"Shahbaz Sharif, too, is facing a case regarding the use of violent force by police. There will be many problems for the Sharif family in the coming weeks and months," Abbas added.

Pakistan - Oppositionspolitiker Imran Khan in seinem Anwesen in Bani Gala (Reuters/C. Firouz)

Cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan is leading an anti-corruption movement in Pakistan

A 'judicial coup'

Nawaz Sharif's disqualification angered his supporters, who allege that their country's powerful military influenced the judiciary to unseat him. A strong civilian government has always been a threat to the military's unchecked power, they say.

Some analysts dubbed Sharif's disqualification a "judicial coup."

- Opinion: A 'judicial coup' against Pakistani PM Sharif

- Asma Jahangir: 'Panama Papers report aimed at ousting PM Sharif'

Political observers say the army leadership is very skeptical of Sharif due to his repeated attempts to improve ties with India and enhance trade between the two South Asian nuclear-armed archrivals. Analysts say that Sharif had also angered Saudi Arabia by opting to remain neutral first in the Yemen war and later in Riyadh's conflict with Qatar.

Read: #DawnLeaks: Pakistani PM Sharif 'forces' powerful military to back off

Parliamentary elections are due in Pakistan next year, and Sharif's party is hoping for a resounding victory despite the fact that the Sharif family will continue to be investigated by the National Accountability Bureau.

Three-time prime minister Sharif could never complete his democratic tenure. He was first ousted on corruption charges in the early 1990s, and later in a military coup in 1999. No civilian prime minister in Pakistan has ever completed their constitutional term.

The United States and the European Union have urged a smooth democratic transition in the South Asian country.

But Khalid Hameed Farooqi, a Brussels-based Pakistani journalist who covers diplomatic affairs, told DW that Sharif's ouster has reflected negatively on Pakistan.

"Sharif has a good reputation in the European Union. His departure would have an adverse effect on Pakistan's foreign relations," said Farooqi.

Read: Panama Papers: Pakistani PM's aide calls for international support

-- Additional reporting by Sattar Khan, DW's Islamabad correspondent.

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