Pakistan parties reach power-sharing agreement, Khan loyalists left out

AFP , Wednesday 21 Feb 2024

Pakistan's two dynastic parties have reached a power-sharing agreement that will return Shehbaz Sharif to the premiership, leaving out politicians loyal to jailed former leader Imran Khan despite them winning the most seats in this month's vote.

Shehbaz Sharif
Pakistan s two dynastic parties have reached a power-sharing agreement announced at a late-night press conference in Islamabad, announcing, former leader, Shehbaz Sharif, as prime minister and Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, as president. AFP


The army-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said they had settled days of negotiations on securing a majority to form a coalition government that will also include several smaller parties, after the February 8 polls returned no clear winner.

Candidates loyal to Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party won the most seats but were forced to stand as independents following a sweeping crackdown on the party in the lead-up to the election, which was marred by allegations of vote rigging.

The proposed new government looks much the same as the shaky coalition that combined to oust Khan in a no-confidence vote in 2022 when Sharif became prime minister for the first time.

On the streets of the capital Islamabad, some were skeptical of what the new government had to offer.

"Establishing a (coalition) government hasn't proved beneficial in the past," said retired 67-year-old Saeed Asmat.

"Each time they formed a government, inflation skyrocketed, making it difficult for the poor to survive," he added. "What actions will they take now?"

The deal was announced at a late-night press conference in Islamabad, announcing Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, as president.

"The Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz have attained the numbers and we will form a government," said PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Zardari and Bhutto.

"We are hopeful that Shehbaz Sharif will soon become the prime minister of the country and the whole of Pakistan should pray that the government should be successful."

Bhutto Zardari, who was foreign minister under Sharif in the last government which dissolved in August ahead of elections, said ministerial portfolios had been agreed and would be announced in the coming days.

The National Assembly must convene by February 29, when the coalition can be formally approved.

'Stealing an election' 

PTI lashed out against the agreement, reiterating its accusations of foul play.

"The PML-N and the Peoples Party deserve some praise for their epic 30-year journey, from stealing taxpayers' money together to stealing an election together," the party said on social media platform X.

It also referred to Sharif and Bhutto's parties as "mandate thieves".

PML-N and PPP formed an opposition coalition in 2022 before seizing power from Khan, overseeing a period of massive inflation and dwindling cash reserves that almost caused the nuclear-armed state to default.

At the eleventh hour, they secured a deal with the International Monetary Fund, due to expire in March, with the country yet to make an economic recovery after continued political instability.

"The coalition is the best possible in the given circumstances," said Awais Ashraf, a research director at financial consultancy Akseer Research in Karachi.

"They achieved the last IMF package successfully and there is a strong likelihood that the coalition government will get into a new IMF agreement smoothly."

Sharif's brother, three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile to lead the election campaign after analysts said he struck a deal with the military that saw his convictions for graft melt away.

But Nawaz, who was widely considered to be pulling the strings of his brother's government from his home in London, failed to secure the expected majority.

Former cricketing star Khan has been languishing in jail since August, slapped with lengthy sentences for corruption, treason, and an illegal marriage, charges he says are politically motivated and designed to keep him from power.

Khan was brought to power in 2018 by a young electorate weary of the dynastic politics of PML-N and PPP, but also reportedly with the blessing of the generals.

He was booted after analysts say he fell out with the military and went on to wage a risky campaign of defiance against the establishment.

Social media platform X has been disrupted across Pakistan since Saturday night, when a senior government official made a public admission of vote manipulation in the February 8 polls.

Digital rights activists said the platform was used to protest against alleged rigging of the results.

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