Nawaz Sharif's chances of becoming Pak PM brightens after PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto withdraws from race

Questions loom over what next govt will look like 5 days after general elections


In a major boost to former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif's bid to secure a record fourth term, Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Tuesday withdrew from the race, saying his party would support the ex-premier without being part of the government.

Despite independent candidates backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party springing a surprise by winning the most seats in Parliament, questions loom over what the next government of Pakistan will look like five days after the general elections.

None of the three major parties, the PML-N, the PPP, or the PTI have won the necessary seats in the February 8 general elections to secure a majority in the national assembly and, therefore, will be unable to form government on their own, leading to a hung Parliament.

Addressing a press conference after the meeting of the PPP's high-powered Central Executive Committee (CEC), held under his leadership, Bilawal said the reality is that his party does not have a mandate to form a federal government.

Due to this, I will not be putting myself forward for the candidacy of the prime minister of Pakistan, the 35-year-old former foreign minister said, adding that PML-N and the independents have greater numbers in the Centre.

Bilawal's announcement came hours after former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif reaffirmed that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif, 74, will become the prime minister for a record fourth time.

"I had said that Nawaz Sharif would become prime minister for the fourth time. And I maintain today that he is going to be the PM for the fourth time," Shehbaz told a press conference.

Bilawal noted that Imran Khan's PTI had refused to form a coalition with the PPP which left the PML-N as the only party that had invited the PPP to join the government.

Khan on Tuesday dismissed the idea of forming a coalition government with any of the main political parties in Pakistan and termed them as the biggest money launderers being brought to power.

The 71-year-old Khan, also the founder of PTI, was speaking with journalists at the high-security Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi. Khan and many of his party colleagues are lodged in jail for many months in connection with convictions in multiple cases.

There can be no alliance with PML-N, PPP, and MQM, he said, adding that he had directed PTI Information Secretary Raouf Hasan to bring together all parties except the three parties.

The PPP has decided that "we may not be a part of the government but we will engage with political parties on the issue of votes and the election of prime minister."

He said the PPP would help to form a stable government without being part of it.

To that end, the PPP will be willing to support the case of important votes - a candidate of the PM of Pakistan - and issue to issue basis to ensure that the government is formed and political stability is restored, Bilawal said.

Bilawal said he would like to see his 68-year-old father Asif Ali Zardari become the president once again. Zardari, husband of slain prime minister Benazir Bhutto was the president from 2008 to 2013.

“I am not saying this because he is my father. I am saying this because the country is in a huge crisis at the moment and if anyone has the capacity to douse this fire, it is Asif Ali Zardari,” he asserted.

In response to a question, Bilawal said all political forces needed to think about the country and end the politics of division. They must not just think about themselves [] this way the enemies of the country would want to benefit from this crisis.

It takes two to tango, he said.

To form a government, a party must win 133 seats out of 265 contested seats in the 266-member national assembly.

The Election Commission of Pakistan has announced that independent candidates, a majority of them supported by the PTI secured 101 seats, followed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 75 seats, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) getting 54 seats, and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) bagging 17 seats.

Other parties got 17 seats while the result of one constituency was withheld.

Meanwhile, a senior official of Khan's party said it will use the platform of two rightwing religious parties in its bid to form government in the Centre as well as in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has decided to join Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) to form the government in the Centre and Punjab and Jamaati-e-Islami (JI) in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, PTI Information Secretary Hassan said while addressing a press conference.

Hassan said the PTI was redoubling its efforts to make government in the Centre and Punjab.

However, it is believed that by joining the two parties, the PTI will not be able to gather enough strength to form either the federal or provincial government in Punjab.

PTI can form a government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa even without the support of any other party.

In a setback to PTI, a Pakistani court on Tuesday dismissed more than 30 petitions filed by Khan's party-backed independent candidates who challenged the "sham victory" of top PML-N leaders, including former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz.

The Lahore High Court while dismissing the petitions asked the defeated Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party-backed candidates to move to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for redressal of their grievances, including alleged rigging of votes in the February 8 general elections.

Nawaz Sharif first assumed power in 1990 but was forced out three years later by corruption allegations—a theme that has dogged his career.

He came to power for the second time in 1997 and held the prime minister's post till 1999 when he was deposed in a military coup after plotting to sideline then Pakistan Army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

More than a decade later he was back in power in 2013, but fresh graft allegations emerged when his children were named in the 2016 Panama Papers leak for holding offshore companies.

He was later convicted over separate corruption allegations and disqualified from office for life—the third time that he failed to complete a full term.


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