ISLAMABAD: After remaining in the political wilderness for almost 14 years, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif is set to become the country’s prime minister for the third time as the National Assembly meets here on Wednesday to elect its leader of the house.
Although two political heavyweights — Makhdoom Amin Fahim of the PPP and Makhdoom Javed Hashmi of the PTI — are also in the run for the coveted office, Mr Sharif’s election is a foregone conclusion because of the numbers the PML-N has in the assembly that has come into existence after the May 11 elections.
The PML-N’s nominees, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and Murtaza Javed Abbasi, were elected as the NA speaker and deputy speaker in one-sided contests on Monday, both securing 258 votes.
Mr Sharif’s vote tally is expected to be higher in Wednesday’s elections after the announcement of unconditional support by the MQM for him as a “goodwill gesture”. The 23-member MQM had fielded its candidates for the offices of speaker and deputy speaker.
JUI-F chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and Aftab Sherpao of the QWP also announced after their separate meetings with PML-N delegations on Tuesday that they would vote for Mr Sharif.
The process for the election of the prime minister began on Tuesday with the submission of nomination papers. The papers of Mr Sharif were submitted to the office of the NA secretary by Ishaq Dar, Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, Khawaja Mohammad Asif and Mehmood Khan Achakzai.
On the other hand, Mr Fahim and Mr Hashmi visited the parliament house to submit their nomination papers.
The PPP, which had withdrawn its candidates from the race for the offices of speaker and deputy speaker, is determined to contest the election this time, saying it will not leave the field open for Mr Sharif.
Talking to reporters after submitting his papers, Mr Hashmi said the PTI would play the role of a constructive opposition.
Mr Hashmi, who had served the PML-N as its acting president when Mr Sharif was in exile, said the PTI would point out the mistakes and wrongdoings of the government and would cooperate with it if it takes steps for the betterment of the nation.
The election will be held through a division vote under the Second Schedule and Rule 35 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly, 2007. The members will be asked to proceed to the lobbies designated for the candidates for recording their votes.
The PML-N chief is scheduled to take oath from President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday evening. So far, there has been no official word from the PML-N about the federal cabinet. However, it is expected that a small cabinet will also take oath on Wednesday.
Mr Sharif, 63, started his political career in 1980 and served first as Punjab’s finance minister and later as chief minister.
He became prime minister for the first time in Nov 1990 in mid-term general elections held after the dissolution of a PPP government, led by the late Benazir Bhutto. He, however, was ousted by the then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1993 because of political differences between the two. Although the Supreme Court restored his government, he resigned from the office and dissolved the NA, paving the way for new elections as a result of which Ms Bhutto became prime minister for the second time.
When elections were held in 1997 after dissolution of the second PPP government by the then president Sardar Farooq Leghari, Mr Sharif became prime minister for the second time after his PML-N acquired a two-thirds majority.
Mr Sharif also entered into a conflict with then chief justice Syed Sajjad Ali Shah and faced contempt of court charges which were later dismissed. It was during Mr Sharif’s second term in government that the country conducted nuclear tests in 1998, days after India had carried out its own.
Later Mr Sharif developed differences with his newly-appointed army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf on the Kargil issue. This conflict resulted in the ouster of his government in a bloodless military coup by Gen Musharraf on Oct 12, 1999, after a day of dramatic events.
He was subsequently arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment by an anti-terrorism court in April 2000 on two counts of hijacking and terrorism over the diversion of Gen Musharraf’s plane when it was low on fuel.
A deal was later negotiated by the late Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri and Mr Sharif’s sentence was commuted to exile in Saudi Arabia.
He returned to Pakistan in Nov 2007, a month after Ms Bhutto’s homecoming, and resumed political activities.
In the 2008 elections, his party won about a quarter of the National Assembly seats and went on to form a coalition government with the PPP both at the centre and in Punjab.
However, due to disagreements over reinstatement of judges deposed by Gen Musharraf and unilateral nomination of Asif Zardari as a presidential candidate, the PML-N withdrew from the PPP-led coalition and joined the opposition at the centre.
During his campaign for the May 11 elections, the PML-N chief had vowed that his party would turn Pakistan into a new, modern and developed country if the people voted it to power.
Mr Sharif has been vocal on the issue of Balochistan and missing persons.
Calling terrorism a challenge for the country, the PML-N chief is in favour of peace talks with the Taliban.
In his recent interviews and talks, Mr Sharif has always said that the first priorities of his government will be to resolve the energy crisis by eliminating loadshedding and improving the economy. He has also made a number of promises regarding construction of roads, motorways and airports at various places during the election rallies, besides running a bullet train.