Wednesday 22 January 2020

Shahid Abbasi elected as Pakistan's prime minister

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, centre, replaces Nawaz Sharif (Anjum Naveed/AP)
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, centre, replaces Nawaz Sharif (Anjum Naveed/AP)

Pakistan's lower house of parliament has elected veteran politician Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as the country's new prime minister.

He is a loyalist of outgoing Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified by the Supreme Court for concealing assets.

Mr Abbasi, a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League party, got 221 votes in the 342-member National Assembly.

His closest rival Syed Naveed Qamar, from the opposition Pakistan People's Party, secured 47 votes, according to Ayaz Sadiq, the National Assembly Speaker.

Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, a politician from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, founded by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, got 33 votes.

Hours later, Mr Abbasi was sworn in to his office at the presidency palace in the capital Islamabad.

President Mamnoon Hussain administered the oath of office to him at a ceremony which was attended by leaders from the ruling party, diplomats, bureaucrats and senior military officials.

Mr Abbasi replaced 67-year-old Mr Sharif, who was disqualified by the top court on Friday for concealing assets - specifically, that his son's Dubai-based company listed a monthly salary for him.

Mr Sharif claimed he never received any of that money.

Mr Sharif's party wants Mr Abbasi to serve as an interim premier for 45 days or until Mr Sharif's younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab province, wins a National Assembly seat in a by-election.

The opposition has criticised this intention as dynastic and undemocratic, criticism that Mr Abbasi rejects.

"I may be here for 45 hours or 45 days. I am the prime minister and I am not here to keep the seat warm, I will do the work of 45 months in 45 days, if I remain here," he said in his speech.

Mr Abbasi also dismissed the corruption allegations against Mr Sharif as baseless and said he hoped the deposed premier would return to parliament soon.

He said the people of Pakistan did not accept Mr Sharif's disqualification, and vowed to follow in the footsteps of Mr Sharif.

Mr Abbasi was jailed by the former military dictator Pervez Musharraf for not testifying against Mr Sharif following a 1999 bloodless coup in which Mr Sharif's elected government was overthrown.

Mr Sharif and his family were subsequently exiled to Saudi Arabia.

On Tuesday, Mr Abbasi said he would ensure the rule of law in Pakistan.

He stopped short of criticising the judiciary, saying legal experts were surprised by the decision to disqualify Mr Sharif and that no-one was willing to accept it.

Mr Abbasi said Mr Sharif was victimised for putting Pakistan back on the path of progress and bringing in foreign investments worth billions of dollars to Pakistan.

He also said Mr Sharif was able to attract foreign investment because he was an honest person.

Mr Abbasi also asked his countrymen to pay their taxes honestly as he plans to take stern action against anyone involved in tax evasion.

He said rich people must pay their taxes for Pakistan's economy to improve. He promised better health and education facilities.

Mr Abbasi said he would ensure the rule of law and that he would run the country strictly according to the constitution.

Mr Sharif's party has said it will file a petition with the Supreme Court next week asking for a review of its decision to disqualify him.

Mr Abbasi's rival candidates Mr Qamar and Mr Ahmed congratulated him on becoming the new prime minister and hoped that he would ensure political stability in Pakistan, which has faced political turmoil and militancy since Mr Sharif came to power in 2013.

Mr Sharif's party said it will remain in power until the next general elections are held in June 2018.

Meanwhile, a female politician from Mr Khan's party on Tuesday quit the party, calling the party leader a "characterless person".

Ayesha Gulalai Wazir posted a tweet saying the honour of female party members was not safe because Mr Khan had an "immoral character".

Hours later, several female leaders from the party rejected Ms Wazir's allegation at a press conference.


PA Media

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