Shehbaz Sharif returns as prime minister for second time

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawazs (PML-N) President Shehbaz hugs his brother Nawaz Sharif. — YouTube screengrab
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) President Shehbaz hugs his brother Nawaz Sharif. — YouTube screengrab  

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday took over the premiership for the second time after he bagged 201 votes in the National Assembly, becoming the country’s 24th prime minister. 

Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif has been elected prime minister with 201 votes. [While] Omar Ayub obtained 92 votes,” announced National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq amid protest by the SIC lawmakers.

The speaker then invited Shehbaz to sit in the prime minister’s seat and invited him to address the house. 

Shehbaz’s victory was expected as he enjoyed the support of seven other parties apart from the PML-N. The PM-elect has the support of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), Pakistan Muslim League-Zia (PML-Z), Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP) and National Party (NP).

In his maiden speech as the prime minister, Shehbaz — surrounded by party leaders — thanked PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif for nominating him for the coveted post and expressed gratitude to his allies for supporting him.

Taking the opportunity to highlight the country’s history of political turmoil, the prime minister-designate lamented the “judicial murder” of PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and paid homage to his daughter and ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto for paying the ultimate price for democracy.

Without taking any names, Shehbaz took a jibe at the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for hounding the then-opposition, going against the country’s national interests while resorting to levelling serious allegations against the armed forces.

“This is the difference between the [two] leaderships. The House is witness that the [PML-N] has never even thought of indulging in politics of vengeance.”

“It’s sad that the nation had to witness the [state] institutions including the GHQ, Corps Commander Houses being attacked,” he said while recalling the May 9 riots that were triggered after the arrest of PTI founder Imran Khan in a graft case last year.

Elaborating on his government’s plans to steer the country out of the prevailing crises, Shehbaz said that people from all walks of life have to come together to change the country’s destiny and overcome the challenges.

Addressing the economic crunch faced by the country, the PML-N leader highlighted that out of the Rs12,300 billion generated by the country, Rs7,300 billion is given to the provinces under the NFC award and the government faces a whopping Rs7,000 billion deficit due to services charges worth up to Rs8,000 billion.

“Where will the money come for development, health and education sectors? From where will the armed forces’ government employees’ salaries be paid?”

“All this is being afforded via loans throughout the years […] This is the biggest challenge faced by the country today,” he noted.

‘Bottomless pit’

On the issue of exuberant electricity bills, Shehbaz lamented that the circular debt (electricity) stands at Rs23,000 billion as only Rs28,000 worth of recovery is made for Rs38,000 worth of electricity that is provided to the consumers.

“There’s a gap of Rs1,000 billion which amounts to [around] $3.5 billion. Can this nation afford careless governance?”

“I would call it a ‘bottomless pit’,” he said while lamenting electricity theft worth up to Rs500 to 600 billion each year.

Meanwhile, he added, that the circular debt of the gas sector has reached the grave Rs29,000 billion due to the import of expensive LNG coupled with theft and issues with the distribution system.

“The state-owned enterprises are in a loss of Rs600 billion […] The PIA [alone] is in debt of Rs800 billion,” he added.

Terming the agriculture sector as the economy’s backbone, Shehbaz said that his government would provide subsidies to the farmers and would also introduce a solar tube well programme for them.

“Perpetrators of the May 9 [riots] would be brought to justice [whereas] those who weren’t involved in the incidents would not be bothered,” he said while reaffirming the government’s commitment towards the implementation of the National Action Plan.

On the government’s plan to stimulate business activities, he said that the government would abolish draconian and obsolete laws and regulations and would work with the provincial governments to establish a comprehensive network of export zones.

“Our goal is to secure G20 membership by 2030.”

“Women are to be given equal pay as men,” he said while addressing the prevailing gender-based discrimination in society.

Banks are to be directed to allocate loans for the young generation, he added while announcing that the government would ensure that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is held accountable if it fails to ensure tax refunds within 10 days.

Elaborating on his foreign policy, Shehbaz said that the government would not allow Pakistan to become part of some “great game”.

The government would maintain cordial relations with the neighbouring countries based on the principles of equality.

The PM’s election

The session, which is being chaired by NA Speaker Sadiq, began with the oath-taking of PML-N’s Jam Kamal. 

However, the House soon began echoing with slogans and chants raised by the SIC members in favour of incarcerated Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan and alliance backing Shehbaz Sharif.

After this, Speaker Sadiq asked the Assembly staff to ring the bell for five minutes so any members that are not present in the house could come to the floor for the prime minister’s election.

Once the bells were rung, Speaker Sadiq ordered the NA staff to lock the doors and announced the method for electing the prime minister.

Then the speaker informed the lawmakers about the candidates who were contesting for the prime minister’s elections.

“Valid nominated candidates are Shehbaz Sharif and Omar Ayub. Honourable members who wish to vote in favour of Shehbaz may proceed to the lobby on the right side designated as ‘Lobby A’,” the speaker said.

The speaker then directed that those who wish to vote for Ayub can proceed to the left-hand side towards “Lobby B” to get their votes recorded.

As the voting process commenced, members of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) walked out of the House in line with their decision to boycott the elections for the PM, president and other constitutional offices.

While Balochistan National Party’s Sardar Akhtar Mengal did not cast his vote and stayed in his seat during the voting process.

Following the conclusion of the polling process, the NA secretary provided the speaker with the record of the votes cast in the elections.

Once the counting was completed the speaker directed the NA staff to ring the bell to summon the lawmakers back in the house for the announcement of the results. 

Kakar to welcome Shehbaz at PM House

Official sources said Caretaker PM Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar would welcome the new premier on his arrival at the Prime Minister’s House.

Kakar has vacated the PM House, but he will continue to perform his duties as premier till the issuance of notification of the new chief executive of the country. He has been allotted a house in the Minister’s Enclave.

Kakar remained the caretaker PM for the longest period of 200 days. The previous record was held by Muhammad Mian Soomro, who remained the caretaker PM from March 25, 2013 to June 4, 2013.

The PM House is getting ready to welcome the new chief executive of the country on Monday, a day after the election of the premier, who is also the Leader of the House in the National Assembly.

Officials said that arrangements for the presentation of a guard of honour and to welcome the new PM are being made for Monday in view of predicted clear weather after a spell of rains.