Nawaz Sharif to recruit independents to avoid new Pakistan coalition government
Pakistan’s general election has seen a swing to the Pakistan Muslim League-N which has secured its leader Nawaz Sharif a third stint as prime minister. But provisional results do not give the conservative party an overall majority unless it can recruit some of the over 20 independents to its ranks.
“We have bagged 126 national seats on our own and we are closely in touch with independent members who are willing to join us,” Sharif’s son, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, who has been elected to the National Assembly, told RFI on Monday. “I feel that we will have a comfortable majority while forming the government at the federal level.”
Disappointment with the outgoing People’s Party-led coalition led to a massive swing to Sharif’s PML-N and party leaders, several of whom are members of the Sharif family, are relishing the prospect of power.
Hamza Shahbaz is the son of Nawaz’s powerful brother Shahbaz, who is currently chief minister of Punjab.
Although Christian lawyer and parliamentary candidate George Nicholas Robinson is among several activists who accuse him and his father of shady deals, he points to a report by corruption watchdog Transparency International that said Punjab province was the least corrupt of Pakistan’s provinces.
And he claims that the party’s success in Punjab is due to its success in running the province and its capital, Lahore.
Throughout the campaign Nawaz Sharif said he wanted a mandate to rule alone, although most pundits predicted that he would have to form a coalition.
Saturday’s result has not quite given him enough seats to do so.
But a recently adopted change to the constitution might sort that problem out.
“Under the new constitution law the independent members who are 22 or so have to join some political party within three days,” political analyst Farooq Hasnat explains. “So probably, even if 60 per cent join Nawaz Sharif, then his number will go up.”
Not only do the former independents have to choose a party but the law also obliges them to vote along party lines throughout the life of the parliament.
Nawaz Sharif said he wanted to avoid having to form a coalition so as to have the strong government Pakistan needs at the present time.
“Obviously coalition government has its own problems,” Hamza Shahbaz says. “There is blackmailing, there is wheeling and dealing, you have to negotiate every bill you pass in the legislature. So I think with a clear mandate, with a stable government, we will be able to concentrate on the challenges that Pakistan is facing right now – the economy, terrorism, the menace of corruption and, also, revisiting foreign policy.”
India has already declared that it can work with Sharif and the PML-N seems to want to push the peace process forward, if only because it will be good for business, particularly in Punjab and Lahore, which is just kilometres away from the border.
Washington has also been positive about Sharif’s election, despite the fact that he told the BBC that he would end Pakistan’s collaboration with the US’s war on terror.
That was under pressure from cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who wants to stop the US drone strikes that have cost civilian lives in the tribal areas and the north-western Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
Khan’s and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is likely to take control of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Hamza Shahbaz says his uncle will be able to resist American pressure, as he did when Pakistan’s nuclear weapons tests went ahead during his first term in office.
But he fights shy of repeating the war-on-terror pledge.
“I’m not saying we are going to be tougher on the United States,” he says. “I’m only saying that the people of Pakistan are the major stakeholders of this war on terror and no-one knows after the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan what kind of situation will emerge.
“We respect what the United States expects from Pakistan but, at the same time, US and European countries should understand what Pakistan is going through.”
Pakistan faces big problems and, according to analyst Farooq Hasnat, this could be make or break time for the PML-N.
Sharif has the mandate, he probably has the majority. If he fails he has no excuses.
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