PML-N’s nominee Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was elected prime minister of Pakistan after bagging 221 votes during a vote carried out to elect a short-term successor to ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Following the announcement by NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq in this regard on Tuesday evening, the PML-N lawmakers resorted to sloganeering in favour of Nawaz Sharif.
The NA session was called by President Mamnoon Hussain following a landmark Supreme Court ruling on the Panama Papers case in which Nawaz Sharif was disqualified as PM after being deemed unfit to hold office.
Following the SC verdict, the PML-N had agreed upon Abbasi, the former petroleum minister, as its candidate for interim prime minister. He is expected to give way for Shahbaz Sharif, who is likely to compete for the seat lying vacant following the ouster of his elder brother.
Abbasi bagged 221 votes to win the election, while the PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar secured 47 votes, Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid received 33 votes, and four MNAs voted for Jamaat-i-Islami’s Sahibzada Tariqullah.
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s acceptance speech
Addressing the lower house soon after becoming the prime minister, Abbasi said: “I am grateful to you all, for following the democratic process — whether you voted for or against me.”
“I am grateful to the people of Pakistan, and I am grateful to the ‘people’s prime minister’, Nawaz Sharif,” Abbasi said in his acceptance speech.
“I am also grateful to the opposition and Imran Khan, for remembering us in their daily slandering,” he said.
“An unprecedented decision was taken last Friday. We accepted it as it was. We did not challenge the courts, there was no division in our ranks. The party stands as it was. No one wanted to joust for power — whoever the prime minister [Nawaz Sharif] named was supported unanimously,” he maintained.
“Everybody wants this chair [of prime minister]. Tell me, who in this house doesn’t? It is to the PML-N’s credit that the party rallied unanimously behind whoever was nominated by our leader.
“Within four days, the democratic process is back on track. There were no defections. There was no dissension in our ranks.
“Justice requires that a 1,000 guilty people may go free, but a single innocent person should be convicted. I will not go into details of the Friday’s decision — I only want to say that there will soon be another court, the one held by the people. There will be no JIT there.”
Praising the efforts of former finance minister Ishaq Dar, Abbasi regarded him as a person who worked day and night for the betterment of Pakistan.
The prime minister urged that the Constitution be respected. “Politics, which is seen as a disreputable profession, will be made respectable again,”
“I am sure that the real prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, will return to this seat,” he said.
However, he said, “I am the country’s prime minister, whether it is for 45 days or 45 hours, and am not here to just keep the seat warm.”
“Difficult decisions were taken when necessary,” Abbasi said. “We will continue taking difficult decisions.”
The newly-elected prime minister ─ who is to be in power for about 45 days in line with the PML-N’s strategy ─ promised to take action against “private militias” providing security to citizens.
“There is not a single country in the world which allows licensing of automatic rifles for citizens. If you stand outside the Parliament, you will see a private militia,” Abbasi remarked.
“Action will be taken against them if the Cabinet allows for it. The federal government will seize all automatic weapons, compensating people in return,” he promised.
The premier, carrying forward Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N’s promises, vowed to eliminate loadshedding by November this year as he highlighted various infrastructure and development projects initiated by his party’s government as examples of its commitment to the country’s growth.
“In Pakistan’s history, power projects with the capacity to generate 17,000 MegaWatts were set up before our government. We have added 10,000MW,” he said.
“Pervez Musharraf may have ruled the country for eight years, but show me just one major development project from that era,” he said.
“One thing that is very close to my heart is taxes,” Abbasi claimed.
“The perception here is that paying taxes is optional… If the Cabinet approves, I will set my sights on non-taxpayers,” he promised. “The parliamentarians’ tax directory was published, which is heartbreaking, and fuels the perception that politicians are not serious about the country,” he lamented.
Abbasi also briefly mentioned a focus on agriculture, education and health services.
“Agriculture is the backbone of the country,” Abbasi said. “Although I am not an agriculturalist, I feel their pain,” he said.
Speaking about the state of education, the premier called for improvements in higher education, and the need for a national testing mechanism.
Abbasi also touched upon the PM’s Health Card scheme introduced by Nawaz Sharif ─ “the largest system in South Asia”.
NA session proceedings
As the session started, NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq took oath from JUI-F lawmaker Usman Badini who was elected from NA 260 constituency.
The members prayed for MNA Ejaz Jakhrani’s deceased brother, MNA Ghulam Mustufa Shah’s deceased mother and those who passed away during recent incidents in Quetta, Parachinar, Ahmedpur East and Lahore.
The speaker then read out the house rules, briefing the lawmakers about the process through which the National Assembly will be voting for a new head of government.
Sadiq announced that Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Naveed Qamar, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Sahibzada Tariqullah are the four valid candidates competing for the office of the prime minister.
PML-N leader Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan is also in attendance, he briefly became the centre of attention during the voting process as the treasury members were seen conversing with him.
Abbasi also met Chaudhry Nisar, both were seen laughing.
Meanwhile, the lawmakers were also seen taking pictures with PML-N nominee Khaqan Abbasi.
The PTI and PML-Q lawmakers are voting for Sheikh Rashid while MQM, PML-N and allies are reportedly voting for Abbasi.
PTI leaders had earlier said that party chief Imran Khan will also attend the NA session, but he failed to show up.
The members who wish to vote for Shahid were asked to go to lobby A, while those wanting to vote for Naveed Qamar approached to lobby B. Meanwhile, lawmakers wanting to vote for Sheikh Rashid and Sahibzada Tariq were asked to approach lobby C and D, respectively.
At the end of the polling process, after casting their vote, the PML-N members returned to the house carrying porters of their ousted leader Nawaz Sharif.
MQM backs PML-N
MQM leader Dr Farooq Sattar announced the party’s decision in a joint press conference following a meeting with PML-N leaders in the federal capital on Tuesday.
MQM’s Sattar and Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar held the meeting with PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Saad Rafique and Abdul Qadir Baloch.
Talking to the media, Sattar said that despite their differences with the political parties, MQM is trying to maintain a working relationship with them.
We have welcomed the delegation from PML-N and expect them to resolve our grievances, added Sattar.
Following a PPP parliamentary meeting, Syed Khursheed Shah also withdrew his name in favour of the party’s other nominee, Naveed Qamar.
NA session to elect prime minister
With the support of PML-N allies and the failure of the opposition parties to field a joint candidate, the contest has become almost a one-sided affair.
Sources said the PPP leaders not only objected to Sheikh Rashid’s nomination, they also complained that PTI chairman Imran Khan had announced his nominee before the opposition parties’ meeting that had already been convened by Khursheed Shah.
Sheikh Rashid has objected to Abbasi’s papers, saying he was facing a corruption reference in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), but the speaker rejected the objection. He asked the complainant to raise the matter at the appropriate forum.
PML-N’s course of action
Abbasi is expected to take over as interim prime minister until Shahbaz Sharif is elected to the Parliament, and then to the prime minister’s office.
Shahbaz will likely seek election to the National Assembly from Nawaz Sharif’s constituency, which is a PML-N stronghold. As part of the agreed-on course of action, he will also have to forego his seat in the Punjab Assembly and his successor will need to be chosen.