Ex-PM Nawaz’s daughter is Pakistan’s first female provincial chief minister

Maryam, Nawaz Sharif’s eldest daughter and apparent political heir, becomes the first female chief minister of Punjab province.

Maryam Nawaz Pakistan
Maryam Nawaz, newly elected chief minister of Pakistan's Punjab province, arrives to attend the assembly session in Lahore [KM Chaudary/AP]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of three-time former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has been elected the chief minister of the key province of Punjab – the country’s first woman to hold the post.

Maryam’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) and its allies on Monday received 220 votes in the 371-member Punjab Assembly in an election boycotted by the opposition Sunni Ittehad Council party, backed by jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Khan alleges the February 8 parliamentary and provincial elections were rigged – an allegation denied by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

“I am disappointed the opposition is not here to be part of this democratic process,” Maryam, 50, said on the opposition’s boycott of her election.

Political dynasty

Maryam is the fourth member of her family to become Punjab chief minister after her father Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shehbaz, and Shehbaz’s son Hamza who held the post for a few months last year.

Maryam Nawaz is seen as the political heir of her father, three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif. [Rahat Dar/EPA]
Maryam is seen as the political heir of her father, three-time PM Nawaz Sharif [File: Rahat Dar/EPA]

Shehbaz could return as prime minister for a second term when the parliament meets later this week.

Born in 1973, Maryam is the eldest among four siblings and was not into politics until 2013 when Nawaz became the prime minister for the third time. Soon, she emerged as the family’s apparent political heir while her brothers handled the business.

After Nawaz was disqualified from the post of the prime minister in 2017 for lying in his assets declarations before the ECP, Maryam assumed a more prominent role in the party.

However, days before the 2018 election, which she planned to contest, a court in capital Islamabad convicted her of corruption, along with her father and her husband. The conviction disqualified her from contesting elections for a decade.

A year later, she was relieved in the case while Nawaz, suffering ill health, went into self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom, from where he returned in October last year.

‘Landmark event’

Nida Kirmani, associate professor of sociology at Lahore University of Management Science, told Al Jazeera Maryam’s election as Punjab chief minister “may not necessarily be a victory for women’s empowerment, it is certainly a landmark event” in Pakistan’s political history.

“One hopes that she will use her position to further the cause of gender equality in her province and set an example for the rest of the country to follow,” Kirmani said.

Maryam Nawaz Pakistan
Maryam became the face of the PMLN party after her father went into exile in the UK [File: Shahzaib Akber/EPA]

Pakistan was the first Muslim-majority country to elect a female prime minister when Benazir Bhutto took over in 1988. She won for a second time in 1993.

Both Maryam and Bhutto belong to Pakistan’s prominent political dynasties who have been ruling over the country for decades. Bhutto’s son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is currently the head of the Pakistan People’s Party, the second-largest party in parliament and a dominant player in the Sindh province.

Kirmani said Maryam’s appointment follows a trend of dynastic politics not only in Pakistan but across the region.

“It is a reality that many women who occupy powerful positions do so partially because of their family backgrounds. Changing this would require a change in the structure of the political system and the structure of patriarchy itself,” she said.

“Like other women in powerful positions, Maryam will have to work twice as hard to prove herself as a worthy political leader in her own right.”

However, with questions over the legitimacy of the election and faced with reviving her party, other observers say Maryam’s tenure will not be an easy one.

Political commentator Asma Shirazi told Al Jazeera the biggest challenge for her would be to revive the PMLN’s popularity in a province considered the party’s bastion.

“She has to focus on performance, but also how she behaves with her rivals. She must keep the house [provincial assembly] together,” she said.

Afiya Shehrbano Zia, scholar and gender rights activist, thinks Maryam should reach out to those committed to fighting the larger challenges in the province.

“If [her] office shows a compassionate but strong female face, much can be achieved and she will gain legitimacy. But it cannot be performative. She must carve out her own identity which will require angering and crossing the old Punjabi men and holding her own,” she told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera