Who Could be the Next Prime Minister?

Pakistan’s Prime Minister was ousted from the office on Friday by the Supreme Court. While he may have lost his position, he is still the head of the largest party in the National Assembly, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PLM-N) and this means that he will have the power to nominate his successor. The chosen candidate will be voted by the National Assembly, which is essentially a rubber-stamp affair because PML-N has a strong majority. Maryam Nawaz, Mr. Sharif’s daughter is regarded as his political heir, but she cannot be considered a candidate this time as she doesn’t hold elected office.

It is common to see dark horses emerge in Pakistan’s politics, but the most likely candidates for the position of prime minister are:

Shahbaz Sharif 

There has been considerable speculation within the local media and it is suggested that the party will first bring an interim minister for a couple of weeks and then eventually opt for Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz’s younger brother, for the position. Currently, the younger Sharif sibling is the chief minister of the powerful Punjab Province, which is the stronghold of the Sharif clan. However, he will have to give up that role and get National Assembly votes before he is chosen as the country’s Prime Minister.

In order for this to happy, a party loyalist will have to give up his seat in the national parliament, which will spark a hasty vote that can be contested on the PML-N ticket by Shahbaz. Even though he is less charismatic, Shahbaz is deemed as more intelligent than his elder brother. Punjab is Pakistan’s most prosperous and populous province and he has controlled it for most of the last decade. He has presided over a number of big ticket projects in infrastructure, including the first metro bus service in the country.

Khawaja Muhammad Asif 

One of the most trusted allies of Mr. Nawaz Sharif is Defense Minister Khawaja and is considered to be the most likely successor. Since 1991, a series of key positions within the party have been held by the former banker. He was elected to the National Assembly since 1993 from his home district of Sialkot, which is a vital manufacturing center in Punjab. He has always been a strong critic of the army and it is believed that his hardline viewpoint against the military has created problems for Sharif.

Sardar Ayaz Sadiq 

Another strong candidate who can be considered for the position of prime minister is Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, the speaker of the National Assembly. It is said that he has the ear of the Sharif family and he won their trust when he defeated cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, PML-N’s main rival, in the general election in 2013 for a Lahore seat. Two years later, Sadiq lost his seat after allegations of vote rigging, but he narrowly beat a close aide of Imran Khan in a by-election and was thus, re-elected. He began his political career as a supporter of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party of Imran Khan, but joined PML-N for contesting the elections in 2002.

Ahsan Iqbal 

Belonging to a political family that has been associated with the PML-N party of Mr. Sharif for a very long time, Ahsan Iqbal is a US-educated lawmaker. He is regarded as a visionary leader as well as the development brains of the party. Currently, he is the head of the federal planning and development ministry and also served as the minister for education and minorities in the past. During Sharif’s second term in the office, he was the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission from 1998 to 1999.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan 

Until recently, interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was considered the prime candidate for the position as he is a stalwart of the PML-N. However, his relationship with Mr. Sharif has apparently hit the rocks. As a matter of fact, some sources have also suggested that Mr. Sharif is worried that Nisar wants to take control of the party from the embattled Prime Minister. This week, there was heavy speculation that Nisar was could resign his seat and this has increased intrigue about the relationship between the two. Unlike other allies of Mr. Sharif, Nisar has close connections to the powerful military and this would serve him well if he makes an independent bid for office.