Hours after Nawaz Sharif stepped down as the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Friday following the Supreme court’s verdict in the Panama Papers scandal, the Pakistan local media speculated on the possible candidate who would become the next prime minister of the country. Sharif as the head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party will be able to nominate his successor who will be put to a vote in the National Assembly.
As reported by The Express Tribune, speculation within the media suggests that the party is planning to bring in an interim prime minister for a few weeks before electing Nawaz’s younger brother Shehbaz Sharif to the post. Shehbaz would have to step down from his current role as the Punjab Chief Minister and be elected to the National Assembly before he is eligible to become the prime minister.
News agency, PTI quoted sources saying, “He is an untiring worker, hard task master, loyal to his brother and also in the good books of the powerful establishment. The final choice is with Nawaz Sharif. He will nominate his temporary or permanent successor and everyone would accept it.”
Here are other candidates who are likely in the fray:
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, considered to be one of the most trusted allies of Nawaz, is another strong candidate to succeed him, as reported by The Express Tribune. The former banker has held a series of key positions within the PML-N since 1991. He was elected to the National Assembly from his home district of Sialkot since 1993. According to reports, he is viewed as a strong critic of the powerful military and he has a hardline stance against the army.
The speaker of the National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq comes next in the queue as the prime minister. Sadiq defeated Nawaz Sharif’s arch rival cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, in a hotly contested race for a Lahore seat in the 2013 general election. Sadiq began his career as a supporter of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf party, but quit to contest the 2002 elections on a PML-N ticket.
Another strong candidate, US-educated lawmaker, Ahsan Iqbal has long been associated with the PML-N party. Iqbal currently heads the federal planning and development ministry, having previously served as minister for education and minorities. He has also worked as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission from 1998 to 1999 during Nawaz’s second term.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was until recently considered as the successor to Sharif but relations between the two have strained. Unlike Nawaz’s other key allies, Nisar has close ties with the military, often serving as an intermediary between the two.
The 2016 Panama Papers leak showed that Sharif and his family had allegedly indulged in money laundering to buy expensive assets in London in the 90s through offshore companies. The investigation was carried out by multiple news organisations, including the Indian Express, after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) shared files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The records had been obtained from an anonymous source by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
As the verdict was announced by the Pakistan apex court, the opposition erupted in applause, rushing into the street chanting slogans and handing out sweets in celebration. “He is disqualified as a member of the parliament so he has ceased to be holding the office of Prime Minister,” said Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan.