Pakistani lawmakers are on Monday set to confirm opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif as the country’s new prime minister, after Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote.
The move will draw a line under weeks of political uncertainty that fuelled a devaluation of the rupee, dragged down the country’s stock market and forced the central bank to raise interest rates.
Khan, a former Pakistan cricket captain who became prime minister in 2018, said he accepted the outcome of the no-confidence vote in the early hours of Sunday, but called on supporters to peacefully protest against what he has painted as a foreign-orchestrated coup.
Opposition lawmakers, who now hold the majority in parliament, are expected to accept Sharif’s nomination to the nuclear-armed nation’s top job in a parliamentary vote, which was announced by speaker Ayaz Sadiq on Sunday.
Sharif is the former chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, and brother of three-term former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was jailed for seven years on corruption charges he claims were politically motivated. Sharif was temporarily freed in November 2019 to get medical treatment in the UK, where he has since remained.
“We will bring stability to Pakistan,” said Sharif on Sunday. “There will be no revenge against anyone.” Sharif could potentially remain in power until Pakistan goes to the polls again in August 2023.
Before going into politics, Khan was best known as a socialite and sportsman, but he later transformed his image, welcoming the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan last year and aligning with a conservative brand of Islam. Khan had promised a change from Pakistan’s dynastic politics, represented by families such as the Bhuttos and Sharifs, pledging to fight corruption and reform the state.
But his lacklustre response to rapid inflation in recent months stoked public resentment of what critics said was economic mismanagement. The once fractured opposition parties joined forces to instigate a vote of no- confidence and remove Khan’s slender parliamentary majority — a chain of events Khan has insisted, without evidence, was fomented by a foreign conspiracy.
Although no Pakistani prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term, Khan will be the first to be removed by parliament in a no-confidence vote.
Sharif will inherit a $6bn IMF loan programme, which has involved unpopular measures such as raising utility prices.
Fast-rising inflation, driven in part by the fallout from escalating commodity prices, has prompted warnings of unrest.
“Hubris, erratic governance, poor economic management and intolerance of opposition were among key factors responsible for his downfall,” said Maleeha Lodhi, a former ambassador to the US and the UN who is now a political commentator.
Before Khan’s departure there were reports that Pakistan’s powerful army had withdrawn its support of the prime minister. The opposition claimed after his election in 2018 that the army had played a decisive role in securing his victory, including by influencing leading politicians to back him. Senior army officers denied the claims.
Pakistan has been ruled by the army for almost half of its 75 years of existence since it gained independence from the British Raj.
“The transition ahead is full of challenges, especially managing a debt-ridden and inflation-afflicted economy,” Lodhi said.
“The road ahead is characterised by uncertainty. But the good news is that the constitution won out and democracy strengthened.”
Business leaders warned that the new government would face tough challenges such as the anger at rising fuel and electricity prices.
Last month, under mounting pressure from political opponents, Khan announced a subsidy on fuel and electricity tariffs in a bid to win popular support.
“This is not a good time for any new leadership to take charge of Pakistan,” said the head of a leading company in Karachi, Pakistan’s southern port city.
A senior opposition leader told the Financial Times that Sharif may announce parliamentary elections before the end of this year “to avoid going for elections [in 2023] when economic trends could make his government more unpopular”.
In the past few weeks, Khan has repeatedly claimed he was the victim of a US plot to remove him following his trip to Moscow to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin on the day Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. US officials have denied the claim.
Politicians close to Khan said he planned to raise the issue at rallies in the coming days to drum up support.
“Imran Khan wants Pakistanis to remember him for standing up to America, even at the cost of eventually losing power,” said one.