Shahid Khaqan Abbasi elected as interim prime minister

Abbasi is expected to give way to outgoing leader’s brother Shahbaz, who plans to contest a parliamentary seat.

Pakistan''s former Petroleum Minister and Prime Minister designate Shahid Khaqan Abbasi arrives to attend the National Assembly session in Islamabad
Abassi's tenure is expected to be short, as Sharif has earmarked his brother as the successor once he becomes eligible [Reuters]

Pakistan’s parliament has elected Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as the country’s new prime minister, after a Supreme Court decision last week disqualified Nawaz Sharif, his predecessor, over allegations he lied on a wealth declaration.

Abbasi, who belongs to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party, was elected after a vote by members of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, in Islamabad on Tuesday.

The ruling PML-N holds a comfortable majority in the lower house, and Abbasi’s election was considered a foregone conclusion ahead of the vote. Several smaller parties also supported Abbasi’s election in the vote, results showed.

“Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is declared to have been elected as the prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” said Ayaz Sadiq, the speaker of the house, announcing the results to raucous cheers from the ruling party’s lawmakers.

Abbasi was due to be sworn in on Tuesday evening, and would then constitute his cabinet, which is largely expected to be almost identical to Nawaz’’s own outgoing cabinet.

READ MORE: Pakistan’s democracy reels from Nawaz Sharif’s removal

The election was necessitated by the dismissal of Nawaz on Friday, a three-time prime minister who was disqualified from holding public office over allegations that he lied on a parliamentary wealth declaration form when running for office in 2013.

Interim prime minister

In a sign that ousted PM Nawaz’s influence will remain strong within Abbasi’s government, the announcement of his win was followed by the parliament reverberating with lawmakers shouting Sharif’s name, “Nawaz Sharif! Nawaz Sharif!”

Abbasi then rose from his seat and embraced his party’s leaders on the floor of the house, and in a conciliatory gesture, crossed to the other side of the house to greet members of the opposition too.

“Within four days, we have seen the return of the country onto the tracks of democracy. Nothing was derailed,” he said, as he addressed the house from a podium upon which the outgoing PM’s portrait was hung.

“Whether I am here for 45 hours or 45 days, I am the prime minister of this country, and I have come here to get work done, not to keep the seat warm.”

Abbasi will hold the post for roughly two months, while Nawaz’’s younger brother Shahbaz runs in a by-election to take over from him, Nawaz announced after a party meeting on Saturday.

In a unanimous landmark ruling, the Supreme Court declared that Nawaz could no longer hold public office, and referred him, three of his children and several associates to a lower court to be tried on corruption charges.

Corruption cases

On Monday, the National Accountability Bureau, Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog, said that it would be filing cases against Nawaz; his children Hasan, Hussain and Maryam; and Sharif’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

The cases relate to the acquisition of four apartments in London’s posh Park Lane district by the Sharifs, the operations of two steel mills in Saudi Arabia, and 16 other Sharif-owned companies in the United Kingdom, said a statement.

READ MORE: What\’s next for Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif?

Abbasi, 58, a long-time loyalist of the Sharifs’ PML-N party, and previously served as the elder Sharif’s petroleum minister in the current government.

The political opposition, however, has slammed his nomination for the post, arguing that he is facing his own corruption allegations in a National Accountability court related to alleged misconduct in the awarding of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) contracts amounting to about $2 billion in 2015.

Shahbaz, Nawaz’s political heir, is expected to run for the NA-120 seat in Lahore vacated by his brother in the coming days.

That election, too, is widely expected to go ahead, as it is occurring in the Sharif’s stronghold of Lahore, the capital of the same Punjab province of which the younger Sharif has been chief minister for the last nine years.

Opposition to Shahbaz Sharif’s nomination for the position, however, has been growing in recent days, with the political opposition and some analysts accusing the PML-N party of nepotism at the cost of putting the country first.

“In the 70th year of the country’s existence, the party that usurped the name of the party of Mohammad Ali Jinnah is a nepotistic disgrace,” read the editorial in Dawn, Pakistan’s most widely read English language newspaper, on Tuesday.

Regardless of who is prime minister, however, Nawaz’s influence will likely remain strong on the government’s policies.

“I am aware of the weight of this seat. This is the seat where [the first Pakistani PM] Liaquat Ali Khan sat, where Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto sat, where Benazir Bhutto sat,” said Abbasi, following his election. “And it is where Nawaz Sharif is present even today.”

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s Web Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim

Source: Al Jazeera