Shehbaz Sharif elected Pakistan’s PM for second term amid protests in parliament

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Pakistan’s newly formed parliament elected Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday as prime minister for a second time, three weeks after uncertain national elections caused delays in the formation of a coalition government.

“Shehbaz Sharif is declared to have been elected the prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq said, after announcing Sharif had secured 201 votes, above the required 169 votes in the house.

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He beat Omar Ayub, the candidate backed by jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who secured 92 votes.

The declaration was met with loud protests from the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) party backed by Khan. The lawmakers called for Khan’s release and shouted slogans alleging Sharif had come to power through electoral rigging.

In a wide ranging speech, Sharif touched on a number of topics, including the need for economic reforms as well as international relations, but stopped short of announcing definitive changes in policy.

“The work is difficult but it is not impossible,” he said of the effort to pull Pakistan from multiple crises.

He invited the opposition for talks about reconciling political and policy differences.

SIC continued to protest throughout Sharif’s speech, holding up posters with pictures of Khan and chanting “mandate thieves.”

The February 8 election was marred by a mobile internet shutdown, arrests, and violence in its build-up and the unusually delayed results triggered accusations that the vote was rigged.

Sharif returned to the role he held until August when parliament was dissolved ahead of the elections and a caretaker government took over. No single party won a majority.

Sharif, 72, is the younger brother of three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who spearheaded their Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party’s election campaign.

Candidates backed by Khan gained the most seats but the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) agreed to form a coalition government, which enabled Shehbaz Sharif to be elected as prime minister as his brother stepped aside.

“It’s not the first time Shabaz Sharif has become PM of Pakistan without actually being elected. But this time around the nation will not allow him to get away with stealing their mandate. This is only going to make Pakistan nose further economically, causing further deterioration as a nation,” Khan’s close aide Zulfikar Bukhari told Reuters.

In his previous term, Sharif’s government was able to negotiate a critical International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal but the process was mired in challenges, and measures required by the agreement -- which expires in April -- have contributed to rising prices and added pressure on poor and middle class households.

The new government will have to immediately start talks with the IMF for the next agreement to shore up the country’s economy whilst also dealing with growing discontent over deepening poverty.

The government will also have to grapple with ongoing challenges from Khan’s supporters.

The vote in the country’s parliament, which first met on Thursday, took place amidst tight security as candidates backed by former jailed premier Imran Khan have protested against the election result and called for his release.

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