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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Pakistan's new PM to be elected on Tuesday

Parliament to hold special session after supreme court's diqualification of Nawaz Sharif 

Pakistan's former petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is expected to be elected prime minister in a parliament session on August 1, 2017. Drazen Jorgic / Reuters / July 7, 2017
Pakistan's former petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is expected to be elected prime minister in a parliament session on August 1, 2017. Drazen Jorgic / Reuters / July 7, 2017

Pakistan's parliament will meet on Tuesday to elect a new prime minister after the supreme court disqualified Nawaz Sharif following an investigation into corruption allegations against his family.

The ruling party named Mr Sharif's younger brother Shahbaz as his successor over the weekend, but he must first enter parliament by contesting the seat vacated by Mr Sharif.

In the meantime the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which enjoys a majority in parliament, has nominated former oil minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as interim prime minister. With 188 seats in the 342-member national assembly, it should be able to swiftly install its choice, barring any defections from its own ranks.

"We wanted to make sure there is a smooth transfer of power, and no constitutional crisis," said Miftah Ismail, a senior PML-N official and Sharif ally.

A quick handover could ease political upheaval sparked by the supreme court's decision on Friday to disqualify Mr Sharif for not declaring a source of income. The court also ordered a criminal investigation into corruption allegations against him and his family.

Mr Sharif's younger brother - who is chief minister of Punjab, the country's most populous province and the family's power base - has so far been unscathed by the corruption allegations.

However he only holds only a provincial seat and therefore must be elected to the national assembly before becoming prime minister.

The election commission has said holding elections in Nawaz Sharif's former constituency could take up to 45 days.

Mr Sharif's opponents have called the PML-N's succession plans dynastic and undemocratic. Opposition leader Imran Khan called it a form of "monarchy".

Mr Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party held street protests until the supreme court agreed to investigate Mr Sharif over his family's offshore business dealings as revealed in the Panama Papers leak last year.

The premature end to Mr Sharif's third stint in power has raised questions about Pakistan's democracy, as no prime minister has completed a full term in power since independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

Mr Sharif said he was shocked by the supreme court decision to disqualify him over unreported income from a company owned by his son in Dubai. The monthly salary of Dh10,000 was nominal and he never actually received any of it, he said.

The supreme court employed little-used Article 62 of the constitution, which calls for the dismissal of any lawmaker deemed dishonest. Mr Sharif's allies believe the verdict smacks of judicial overreach, while others privately say elements of the military had a hand in the process.

The army has not commented on Mr Sharif's departure, or on allegations they were involved.

Mr Sharif's two previous stints in power were also cut short, the second ending in a military coup led by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999.

His brother Shahbaz, who has been in charge of Punjab since 2008, has better relations with the military than his brother. He has built a reputation as a competent administrator focused on building infrastructure.

He will have to hit the ground running to tackle Pakistan's worsening ties with the United States, frayed relations with India, and persistent attacks by Islamist militants including the Pakistani Taliban and ISIL.

He will also need to boost economic growth above the current rate of 5.3 per cent to find employment for millions of young people entering the job market every year in a nation of nearly 200 million people.

Economists say this will prove tricky at a time when the current account deficit is ballooning and an overvalued currency is hurting exports.