Shehbaz Sharif sworn in as prime minister of Pakistan

Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz party leader head of new eight-party coalition

Shehbaz Sharif has been sworn in as prime minister of Pakistan after an election that was riddled with allegations of rigging and irregularities.

Mr Sharif, of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) party, was the nominated candidate of a new eight-party coalition that was formed after no single party managed to win an outright majority in the election on 8 February.

At Sunday’s gathering of the newly elected national assembly, Mr Sharif won against Omer Ayub, the candidate of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the party of the former prime minister Imran Khan, which will now form the opposition in parliament.

Mr Sharif is the younger brother of the three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and has served as prime minister once before, from April 2022 until August 2023, after Khan was removed from power.


In his victory speech, Mr Sharif thanked his older brother Nawaz, claiming he “was the one who built Pakistan”.

His selection as prime minister came after weeks of wrangling and political horse trading following the contentious February election. PTI had defied a severe crackdown to win the most seats in the election but it was not enough to form an outright majority.

In the days after, PML-N – which had been widely expected to win after it was given the tacit backing of Pakistan’s powerful military – began negotiations with the Pakistan’s People’s party (PPP) and other smaller parties to form an alliance that would be enough to form a majority government and keep PTI out of power.

An agreement was eventually reached that Mr Sharif would serve as prime minister while the PPP co-chair Asif Ali Zardari would be president. Other smaller parties that joined the coalition will be given cabinet posts.

Khan and PTI-affiliated candidates have alleged there was rampant rigging in the election and that dozens of seats they won were stolen and given to PML-N and other parties. They have challenged many of the cases with the election commission and in the courts.

A senior election official publicly said he had been pressed into changing the votes given to PTI-affiliated candidates, though he later retracted his statement after being arrested.

Gohar Khan, who is leading the PTI while Khan is in jail, said the party would not boycott the proceedings and instead use its presence as the opposition to protest against what it described as “mandate theft”.

During Sunday’s vote, PTI-backed lawmakers held up posters of Imran Khan, who is serving more than 10 years in jail in cases that the party alleges are politically motivated, and shouted “azadi”, meaning freedom. They called the new alliance government a “coalition of losers”, and as Sharif made his victory speech there were shouts of “thief” from PTI ranks.

The election of Sharif as prime minister and the imminent appointment of Mr Zardari as president marks the continued dominance of two political dynasties – the Sharifs and the Bhuttos – who have held power between them for decades.

Nawaz Sharif first became prime minister in 1990 and served two terms afterwards, the last starting in 2013. It had widely been expected that he would return to power for a fourth time in this election after he was brought back from exile in the UK, but PML-N’s failure to secure a clear majority was seen as a humiliation and it was decided that his younger brother would be the prime ministerial candidate instead.

However, Nawaz Sharif is expected still to play an influential role and his daughter Maryam Nawaz was selected to be the chief minister of Punjab this week.

Mr Zardari, who serves as co-chair of the PPP with his son Bilawal Bhutto, is the widower of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007. Mr Zardari became president for the first time in 2008 after her death.

Analysts widely agree that the new coalition government led by Mr Sharif faces a tough road ahead. There is still substantial support for Khan and PTI on the streets and the new coalition is seen by many to lack legitimacy.

While PML-N and PPP have served in government together before, they are ideologically opposed on key issues and there are concerns that the alliance will be weak, unwieldy and at risk of collapse in a few months, throwing the country into further political turmoil.

The big obstacle for the new government will be to revive Pakistan’s failing economy and bring down inflation, which is now at about 30% and is likely to mean it will have to introduce unpopular measures.

In a letter to the International Monetary Fund this week, Imran Khan requested that the organisation carry out an audit of the election as a condition before any more funds are given to the cash-strapped country under the new government. – Guardian