Veteran lawmaker Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was elected prime minister on Tuesday by Pakistan’s parliament after the ouster of Nawaz Sharif last week.
Nominated by Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Abbasi secured 221 votes, Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq announced on live television. He was sworn in at the presidency later Tuesday by President Mamnoon Hussain.
His closest rival Syed Naveed Qamar from the opposition Pakistan People’s Party secured 47 votes, according to Ayaz Sadiq, the National Assembly Speaker. Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, a lawmaker from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, founded by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, got 33 votes.
Abbasi is seen as a placeholder for Sharif’s designated successor, his younger brother Shahbaz, who must first be elected to the 342-member National Assembly before taking the top office.
Despite his election minutes before, the new premier used his maiden speech in parliament to declare Nawaz Sharif “the prime minister of the people of Pakistan”.
“Inshallah (God willing) one day the real prime minister of this country will come back and sit on this chair,” he said.
Sharif supporters in the assembly chanted slogans and waved placards bearing larger-than-life images of the deposed premier.
Absent from the assembly was opposition leader Khan, who spearheaded the push against Sharif.
Abbasi, a long-time ally of Sharif, easily won the majority required to become prime minister in the PML-N dominated parliament, putting into motion a process that is expected to ultimately see a Sharif once again as Pakistan’s premier.
“Whether it’s 45 days or 45 hours, I am the prime minister of Pakistan and I am here to work, not keep the seat warm,” Abbasi continued, referring to the time limit on a by-election for Sharif’s old seat, which Shahbaz Sharif is expected to fill.
Abbasi also dismissed the corruption allegations against Sharif as baseless and said he hoped the disqualified premier would return to parliament soon. He said the people of Pakistan did not accept Sharif’s disqualification, and vowed to follow in the footsteps of Sharif.
He said Sharif was victimized for putting Pakistan back on the path of progress and bringing in foreign investments worth billions of dollars to Pakistan.
Listing PML-N trademark issues such as infrastructure projects, he also vowed to crack down on tax evaders and private ownership of automatic weapons.
Nawaz Sharif was the 15th prime minister in Pakistan’s 70-year history — roughly half of which has been spent under military rule — to be disqualified before completing a full term.
The top court sacked him Friday after an investigation into corruption allegations against his family, bringing his historic third term in power to an unceremonious end and briefly plunging the nuclear-armed nation into political uncertainty.
Sharif’s party has said it will file a petition with the Supreme Court next week asking for a review of its decision to disqualify him.
Abbasi is the former federal minister for petroleum and natural resources, and a businessman who launched the country’s most successful private airline, Air Blue.
Educated in the United States at George Washington University, he worked overseas as an electrical engineer before joining politics and being elected to the National Assembly six times.
He was arrested after the 1999 military coup led by General Pervez Musharraf, which ended Nawaz Sharif’s second term as PM, and was imprisoned for two years before being released.
Prime Minister-in-waiting Shahbaz Sharif went into exile in Saudi Arabia along with Nawaz after the coup.
Shahbaz returned to Pakistan in 2007 and was elected chief minister in the family’s power base of Punjab in 2008, becoming the longest serving top official in the province.
A tough administrator with a reputation for passionate outbursts, he is known for using revolutionary poetry in speeches and public meetings and considered by some to be a workaholic.