Shehbaz Sharif back in hot seat amid protests

Published March 4, 2024
ISLAMABAD: PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif congratulates his younger brother Shehbaz as party members thump desks in the National Assembly following the latter’s victory in the PM’s election, on Sunday.—White Star
ISLAMABAD: PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif congratulates his younger brother Shehbaz as party members thump desks in the National Assembly following the latter’s victory in the PM’s election, on Sunday.—White Star

• PM-elect bags 201 votes against 92 polled for Omar Ayub; JUI-F skips session, Akhtar Mengal abstains
• Younger Sharif makes lofty promises, vows widespread reform to lead country out of crises
• PTI leader rejects ‘rigged elections’ and ‘incomplete house’, says party will remain in protest mode

ISLAMABAD: PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday secured the support of 201 lawmakers from multiple parties to become prime minister for a second time in a one-sided contest, boycotted by former allies JUI-F and Akhtar Mengal’s BNP-M.

Mr Sharif is expected to take oath of office in a ceremony at the Presidency today (Monday) after the convening of the first regular session of the NA, set to be held at 11am. The sole agenda for this ‘novel’ session would be felicitations for the PM-elect.

His opponent was Omar Ayub, supported by the Sunni Ittehad Council after its merger with the PTI, who managed to secure 92 votes in the lower house of parliament, which has a total strength of 336. However, only 305 lawmakers have taken oath so far.

Eight lawmakers of the JUI-F led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman skipped the session whereas BNP-M President Akhtar Mengal, who chose to sit on the opposition benches, did not poll his vote despite a request from PTI-backed Amir Dogar, who is the chief whip of the opposition party.

The fourth sitting of the new National Assembly was no different from previous days, as when pandemonium prevailed during proceedings, particularly due to noisy protests by PTI-backed lawmakers demonstrating against alleged rigging in the Feb 8 elections.

At one point, there was a fear of a physical confrontation between PML-N and PTI-SIC lawmakers who surrounded the speaker’s chair. PTI leader Sher Afzal Marwat also got into an argument with their opponents, forcing the speaker to intervene and prevent the altercation from escalating.

Victory speech

PM-elect Shehbaz Sharif delivered a lengthy speech, which seemingly prompted his opponent Omar Ayub to do the same; the former spoke for over an hour while the latter took nearly two.

In his remarks, Mr Sharif extended an olive branch to the PTI to jointly steer the country through multiple problems, but the PTI did not appear so keen. “Let us sit together to change the fate of Pakistan. I request [the opposition] to think with a cool mind after the protest?” Shehbaz Sharif said as he stressed the need for ‘a charter of reconciliation’.

During his speech, the PM-elect promised women empowerment, eradication of militants through the National Action Plan, and reforms in the IT sector, prisons, and the justice system. He also promised scholarships on merit and an efficient public transport system as well as energy reforms. He said though the challenges faced by Pakistan were aplenty, they were not insurmountable.

Deficit of Rs700bn

As per estimates, the revenues stand at Rs12,300 billion and after the release of the NFC award to the province, the federal government is left with only Rs7,300 billion, out of which Rs8,000 billion are spent on debt servicing, leaving the country with a deficit of Rs700 billion, the PM-elect said.

He said Pakistan had sought Rs80,000 billion in external, internal and private debts in the past, adding that the issue required “reforms in the system and various sectors”.

The younger Sharif sibling also mentioned the power sector, saying this alone was burdened with a circular debt of Rs2,300 billion and unrecovered amounts.

Mr Sharif said about 500,000 students would be imparted the latest training and artificial intelligence and IT exports would be focused on. He said high achievers would be provided with scholarships in the world’s renowned educational institutions. The elder Sharif pledged reforms in the agri sector and said farmers would be provided direct subsidies on fertilisers. Similarly, he also promised solar tube wells for farmers as well as imported seeds. He also vowed to make the public transport network better.

The PM-elect underlined the need for a speedy justice system through required reforms in consultations with all stakeholders.

He also announced to completely implement the National Action Plan to end terrorism. He also promised equal rights for women and minorities.

‘Incomplete’ house

Runner-up Omar Ayub rejected the election in his long-winded speech, saying the house was incomplete without the 23 reserved seats of the SIC. He demanded a judicial inquiry into the May 9 incidents.

He claimed the general elections were rigged; otherwise, the PTI would have bagged 180 seats instead of 91. “In that way, we would have 247 seats,” he claimed and called the upcoming government “PDM-2” – a reference to the coalition government which ruled the country for 16 months after the ouster of the PTI government.

He said his party would remain in the ‘protest mode’ unless the party’s founder Imran Khan became the prime minister of the country. He recalled that all cases made against Imran Khan and other party leaders were fake and must be withdrawn.

He said PTI was first deprived of its election symbol (bat), its leaders and workers faced imprisonment, raids, police batons, torture and even killings, “Our 14 workers were killed on May 9 for which Shehbaz Sharif, ex-chief minister Punjab Mohsin Naqvi and IG Punjab are responsible,” he claimed and mentioned their name during his speech. Mr Ayub recalled actions against media persons, like the late Arshad Sharif, Asad Toor and Imran Riaz.

At the outset, ex-Balochistan CM Jam Kamal took oath as an MNA, increasing the total number of NA members to 305.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

By-election trends
Updated 23 Apr, 2024

By-election trends

Unless the culture of violence and rigging is rooted out, the credibility of the electoral process in Pakistan will continue to remain under a cloud.
Privatising PIA
23 Apr, 2024

Privatising PIA

FINANCE Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb’s reaffirmation that the process of disinvestment of the loss-making national...
Suffering in captivity
23 Apr, 2024

Suffering in captivity

YET another animal — a lioness — is critically ill at the Karachi Zoo. The feline, emaciated and barely able to...
Not without reform
Updated 22 Apr, 2024

Not without reform

The problem with us is that our ruling elite is still trying to find a way around the tough reforms that will hit their privileges.
Raisi’s visit
22 Apr, 2024

Raisi’s visit

IRANIAN President Ebrahim Raisi, who begins his three-day trip to Pakistan today, will be visiting the country ...
Janus-faced
22 Apr, 2024

Janus-faced

THE US has done it again. While officially insisting it is committed to a peaceful resolution to the...