Panama Papers case: If PM Nawaz Sharif steps down, his brother might take over

Nawaz’s younger brother and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif is favourite for the job, but will have to win a national assembly seat in order to be elected as leader of the house.

world Updated: Jul 22, 2017 20:53 IST
Press Trust of India, Islamabad
Nawaz Sharif,Supreme Court,Panama Papers probe
The Supreme Court concluded hearing the sensitive Panama Papers case against Nawaz Sharif, 67, and his family on Friday for alleged corruption and money laundering, but reserved its verdict that could jeopardise his political future.(AP File Photo)

Amidst fears that Pakistan’s Supreme Court will ask Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down for corruption in the Panama Papers leaks case, the ruling PML-N party is understood to be finalising names for a replacement.

The premier chaired a high-profile meeting of party leaders on Friday and Saturday, ending with a decision — that Nawaz would not tender his resignation.

Earlier this week, PML-N announced it would accede to the Supreme Court’s orders, fuelling speculation that the party prepared for a change at the top. PML-N leaders also argued on Friday and Saturday that if Nawaz Sharif steps down, it will give him more time to focus on the 2018 general elections.

Shahbaz Sharif —Nawaz’s younger brother and chief minister of Punjab province — is favourite for the job. He seems to have escaped indictment in the joint investigation team (JIT) report and is being reinforced as an “all-important player” of the Sharif family.

However, Shahbaz will have to win a national assembly seat in order to be elected as leader of the house. Given this complication, the party seems to have narrowed down on three names for an interim premier — defence minister Khwaja Asif, planning minister Ahsan Iqbal and speaker Ayaz Sadiq.

Analysts also say that while Shahbaz may likely replace Nawaz if the latter is disqualified, the party would not allow anyone else to take charge of Punjab province — politically, the important province in Pakistan.

One name missing from the list of possible candidates is of interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Nisar is a senior member of the party but has reportedly developed differences with Nawaz Sharif over the handling of the Panama Papers leaks case. Nisar also criticized him for listening to junior party members, blaming them for the poor fortunes that the PML-N currently finds itself in.

This week, Nisar put another cog in the wheels, telling a party meeting that he would not serve under a junior member selected as interim prime minister and argued that Asif was not suited for the top job.

First Published: Jul 22, 2017 14:14 IST