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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Pakistan's ousted PM's brother inches closer to power with party vote

Shahbaz Sharif is seen as dealmaker heir to Nawaz Sharif

Supporters of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wear headbands reading in Urdu 'Blind Justice' during a protest after the Supreme Court barred him from leading the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, in Multan, Pakistan, February 24, 2018. Faisal Kareem /EPA Photo
Supporters of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wear headbands reading in Urdu 'Blind Justice' during a protest after the Supreme Court barred him from leading the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, in Multan, Pakistan, February 24, 2018. Faisal Kareem /EPA Photo

The brother of ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took a small step closer to the premiership on Tuesday after he was named head of the ruling party ahead of a general election due this year.

The promotion of Shahbaz Sharif comes after the Supreme Court last year toppled his elder brother Nawaz following corruption allegations, then last week banned him from leading his eponymous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party (PML-N).

The move by the judiciary sparked fresh fears of political infighting within the PML-N before the election, with Nawaz's daughter Maryam Sharif gaining increasing influence over the party in recent months.

But the party presented a united front with the election of Shahbaz, while Nawaz was appointed the party's guide "for life".

"I propose the name of Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif," Nawaz Sharif announced during a meeting in Lahore to huge applause.

Maryam later tweeted a message congratulating her uncle.

The younger Sharif, currently the chief minister of powerful Punjab province, is seen as a political dealmaker, with many crediting him for the string of by-election victories since his brother was removed from the premiership.

Nawaz Sharif first named Shahbaz as his successor shortly after he was ousted last July. But he designated current prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as interim premier, noting that his sibling must first be elected to the National Assembly before taking the top office.

The younger Sharif faces a rocky road ahead with elections to the Senate or upper house in early March.

In accordance with last week's court ruling, all of the PML-N candidates will have to run as independents because they were selected by Nawaz Sharif.

Despite the court rulings against the PML-N, the party will likely remain a force at the polls after whipping its rivals in consecutive by-elections.

The Sharif clan and their supporters have repeatedly denied allegations of corruption, suggesting Nawaz Sharif is the victim of a conspiracy driven by Pakistan's powerful military establishment.