Imran Khan’s rivals nominate Shehbaz Sharif to lead new Pakistan government

Jailed former PM says proposed alliance has ‘no moral ground’ after allegations of vote rigging

Pakistan’s dynastic political parties are set to form the country’s next government after hashing out a coalition deal to rule despite the stunning success of Imran Khan’s loyalists in elections last week.

The Pakistan Muslim League-N of three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan People’s party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of slain leader Benazir Bhutto, announced plans late on Tuesday to form a ruling coalition, together with a collection of other parties.

The PML-N nominated Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif’s brother and himself a former prime minister, to lead the proposed coalition government.

“We will take Pakistan out of these difficult times,” said Asif Ali Zardari, a senior PPP leader who was expected to take up the ceremonial role of president under the alliance. He called on Mr Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party to work with them “to make Pakistan successful”.


The same coalition ruled briefly in 2022 and 2023 with Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister following Mr Khan’s ousting by a parliamentary no-confidence vote, as Pakistan battled an economic crisis.

Mr Khan, who was ineligible to stand for election after being jailed last year, said the proposed alliance lacked a mandate to rule and rejected invitations to join it, his sister said after visiting him in prison near Islamabad on Tuesday.

“He said: ‘There’s no moral ground for them to make a government after having stolen other people’s seats’,” Aleema Khan said, referring to allegations of vote rigging.

Thursday’s election results astonished Pakistan after many analysts had written off the PTI’s chances, with the party formally barred from the race and thousands of the party’s members and supporters detained under a military crackdown.

Independent candidates mostly backing the PTI won 101 of 265 seats. The party claims it would have secured about 80 more were it not for vote-rigging, and has challenged the results in court.

“What he has instructed was: ‘The party needs to get their seats back’,” Aleema Khan said of her brother. “He says: ‘Go to the courts, go to the Election Commission. Get your mandate back’.”

No party won a clear majority in the vote, with the PML-N taking 75 seats and the PPP 54. Mr Zardari criticised the PTI’s refusal to negotiate with rivals, accusing it of exacerbating Pakistan’s instability.

People “voted for you to resolve their problems”, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper quoted the PPP leader as saying. “A political force must listen to others... When they don’t do that, it damages the country.”

Pakistani authorities have defended the conduct of the polls and denied allegations of wrongdoing, though the US and EU have called for investigations into alleged irregularities.

Ayaz Amir, a PTI backer who stood unsuccessfully in one of the disputed constituencies, said the coalition would struggle to survive under pressure from Khan loyalists.

“It will be an inept, chaotic government,” Mr Amir said. “After the elections the PTI will be in parliament, it will be a strong opposition. It will be the elephant in the room.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024