Sharif Takes Oath as Pakistan Prime Minister for 2nd Time

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Shehbaz Sharif took the oath Monday as prime minister for a second time, almost a month after a general election that was marred by large-scale allegations of voter fraud and resulted in a split mandate.

State television broadcast Sharif’s swearing-in ceremony from the presidential office in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, with top military leaders and bureaucrats in attendance, among others.

The 72-year-old new prime minister will spearhead a minority coalition government, with his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or PML-N, and the Pakistan Peoples Party, or PPP, being the two key partners.

On Sunday, the newly elected National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, chose Sharif for the prime ministerial role amid loud protests from opposition lawmakers aligned with Imran Khan, the jailed former Pakistani prime minister.

Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, party accuse Sharif of returning to power with the help of the military through what they say were one of the country’s most brazenly rigged parliamentary elections held on February 8.


Candidates backed by Khan’s PTI, rated the most popular national party by public polls, won the most seats but fell short of a simple majority, allowing its bitter political rivals PML-N and PPP, the two family-controlled traditional ruling parties, to form a coalition government.

Sharif held office until last August, when he dissolved the parliament at the end of its mandatory five-year term, allowing an interim government to hold the elections.

On the February 8 polling day, authorities blocked mobile services and disrupted access to social media platforms for users in Pakistan, citing terrorism concerns. There was also a nearly 70-hour delay in announcing the results, leading to accusations of electoral fraud to prevent PTI allies from sweeping the polls.

In the months leading up to the national and four provincial assemblies’ elections, Khan was convicted on disputed charges and sentenced to long prison terms, barring him from running. He denied wrongdoing, maintaining that the military was behind his prosecution and scores of other civil and criminal cases to keep him from returning to power.

PTI supporters and candidates faced a military-backed crackdown, hundreds of them were detained, barring them from holding campaign rallies. The mainstream media was also prohibited from reporting on Khan’s speeches or his party’s election-related activities, while PML-N and PPP freely organized rallies and dominated news on national TV channels.

The United States, the European Union, and Britain have backed domestic critics in expressing concerns over reported electoral irregularities and have called for an independent probe.

Khan, a cricket celebrity-turned-prime minister, was removed from office in 2022 through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence that paved the way for then-opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif to replace him. The deposed leader accused the military of orchestrating the vote at the behest of the U.S., charges Washington and Islamabad rejected as baseless.

Analysts say the election’s controversial outcome has dampened hopes for the political stability needed — in the nuclear-armed nation of about 245 million people — to address critical economic problems, rising food and energy prices, and dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

During his previous stint in office, Sharif was able to negotiate a crucial $3 billion loan with the International Monetary Fund. The program expires in April, and economists say the new government will be required to immediately open talks with the IMF to secure a fresh multimillion-dollar loan to keep Pakistan’s fragile economy on track.

Last week, Khan wrote a letter to the IMF asking that future lending to his cash-strapped country be tied to an independent “audit of at least 30%” of the elections. The global lender has not commented on the letter.

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