INTERNATIONAL

The key actors in Pakistan’s future coalition government

ISLAMABAD Following a divided result in last month’s general election in Pakistan, a wide coalition of parties has decided to create a coalition government.
The system is similar to the one that deposed Imran Khan in 2022, igniting a two-year period of political unrest during which his party withstood a crackdown and achieved unexpected triumph in the elections.

Here are the key participants:
With the support of the influential military establishment, the Sharifs, one of the two dynasties that have controlled Pakistan for decades, were predicted to win the elections on February 8.
Shehbaz Sharif will serve as prime minister, and their Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) would be the main coalition partner, per an agreement made late on Tuesday.
His older brother Nawaz, a three-time prime minister, was tipped to be the leading contender for the election as it approached. He had been living in self-imposed exile in the UK.
The PML-N puppetmaster, known as the “Lion of Punjab,” is often seen wearing a Gucci scarf, yet his affable “man of the soil” nature has won him admirers.
The 74-year-old was not included in the 2018 election that saw Khan elected with the support of the armed forces. His homecoming was seen as evidence of a healed relationship between him and the top brass.
But due to the lackluster election outcomes, 72-year-old Shehbaz has been given the reins of leadership; he is seen as having a gentler disposition, being a better negotiator, and being more susceptible to military influence.
Shehbaz was prime minister in the coalition that deposed Khan. She is a cancer survivor and often appears in public wearing a facemask. Nawaz, however, is predicted by observers to be the “power behind the throne”.
The Bhutto family, descended from the deceased former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has decided that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and a few other minor parties would form a junior alliance.
In exchange, they have gained Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir’s widow and the former president known as “Mr. 10 percent” due to the purported share he received from government contracts, the mostly ceremonial position of president.
The 68-year-old was twice imprisoned on allegations of corruption, drug smuggling, and murder—though he was never put on trial—after Benazir’s death. He was elected to office on a sympathy vote.
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, his 35-year-old son with floppy hair, leads the PPP and served as foreign minister in the alliance that overthrew Khan two years ago.
However, many expect Zardari will use it to guide the PPP—ostensibly led by his son—as it engages in a coalition confronted with a number of difficult economic decisions.
The National Assembly must meet by February 29 in order for the coalition to be approved; ministerial positions for the incoming administration have not yet been disclosed.
Khan was imprisoned throughout the election, and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was prohibited from doing any campaigning. Its leaders were apprehended, and its candidates were compelled to run as independents.
Candidates loyal to the PTI won more seats than any other party, despite the crackdown by the military establishment with whom Khan had a falling out. However, these seats were insufficient to create a government.
PTI allege substantial vote tampering that prevented them from winning a majority government, with a large delay in results and a mobile internet outage on election day serving as a cover-up.
Following the 71-year-old former cricket star Khan’s ousting in 2022, his members resigned from parliament over a no-confidence resolution, which they said was the product of a US-backed plot.
This time, however, PTI-affiliated independents have teamed up with the Sunni Ittehad Council, a fringe group, in the hopes of being able to claim a portion of the seats set aside for women and minorities.
The party claims it may try to establish a government if the electoral commission gives its approval, and Omar Ayub Khan, the main organizer, would be their choice for prime minister.
However, much like the Sharifs and the Bhuttos, Imran Khan, who is now serving many long jail terms, will continue to hold the actual power inside the party.

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