Pakistan’s opposition leader Shahbaz Sharifwas elected the country’s 23rd prime minister on Monday, leading to hopes that he will be able to pull the country out of its economic and financial crisis.
A businessman and former chief minister of Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province, Sharif has the reputation of being a good administrator and an efficient ruler.
His development projects have even prompted some traditional political rivals to offer him praise. However, many of his detractors accuse him of cronyism, environmental destruction, and corruption.
Sharif has always dismissed these allegations as politically motivated.
What challenges does Sharif face?
Sharif is taking office at a time when Pakistan is likely to see major fiscal and current account deficits.
The south Asian country is over $100 billion (€92 billion) in debt, needing over $14 billion dollars a year to meet debt servicing requirements on repaying loans that it owes to international monetary institutions.
Sharif’s supporters believe that the newly-elected prime minister will sail through the crisis and improve the economy.
Uzma Bukhari, a leader of Sharif’s party, said that she believes Sharif will be able to reduce debts and accomplish more development projects.
Lahore-based analyst Ahsan Raza agrees. During Sharif’s last 10-year rule in Punjab as chief minister, he introduced modern institutions, Raza told DW.
He explained that the completion of the Safe City project, metro lines and a network of roads, overhead bridges and underpasses have completely transformed Punjab’s capital, Lahore.
Comfortable ties with military
Sharif’s older brother and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is considered an anti-military politician, who ran into trouble with almost all of the army chiefs in the country.
The elder Sharif transformed his party from a pro-army entity to an anti-army political organization, seeking to confine the role of the military to its constitutional domain.
But unlike Nawaz, Shahbaz is known to have good ties with Pakistan’s powerful military.
“He has always had good relations with the army,” Lahore-based analyst Habib Akram told DW and he thinks that Sharif is likely to maintain those ties now that he’s in office.
Pakistan’s foreign policy has traditionally been influenced by the military, and some critics say that this influence will increase under Sharif.
Islamabad-based analyst Dr. Aman Memon told DW that Sharif is a non-confrontational leader with little experience in foreign affairs. Hence, the military will likely be able to exert influence, especially regarding relations with the US, India and Afghanistan.
Accusations of corruption
Although Sharif claims he has not committed a single act of corruption, his detractors say the accusations of corruption are true.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan sarcastically said on Monday that a person who is facing a money laundering case is being elected as prime minister.
Sharif recently escaped indictment in a money laundering case, which has been deferred until April 27. His son Hamza Sharif, a candidate for the chief minister role in Punjab, is also accused in the case.
In the charge sheet submitted to the court, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) says Sharif and his son are prime suspects in money laundering schemes using the accounts of sugar mills and their employees.
The agency said the accused failed to provide a money trail for billions of rupees worth of transactions.
The Sharifs claim that their political rivals concocted the charges.
A former director of the FIA told DW, on the condition of anonymity, that the current money laundering case is likely to be quashed because he is now in power.
Karachi-based analyst Talat A. Wizarat therefore believes that Pakistan is likely to witness a surge in corrupt practices under Sharif. He told DW that both leading Sharifs have enriched their families through corruption in the past, and could do so again.