Pakistan elections: Shehbaz Sharif, the ideal compromise candidate for hung Parliament

Pakistan elections: Unlike elder brother Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz plays his cards close to his chest. He has not confronted or challenged any state institution in public and has always stayed on the right side of the military.

world Updated: Jul 23, 2018 08:35 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Shehbaz Sharif,Nawaz Sharif,Pakistan elections
Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif (centre), brother of former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif, addresses the media in Islamabad.(AFP File Photo)

The chances of PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif of becoming Pakistan’s next prime minister may be slim, but in the case of a hung parliament, he may well be the ideal choice for all quarters, say political analysts.

Unlike elder brother Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz plays his cards close to his chest. He has not confronted or challenged any state institution in public and has always stayed on the right side of the military. In the past, he has acted as a go-between for his brother and the military high command. While not a favourite with the establishment, many believe he could be a good compromise candidate in case of a deadlock.

From 1988, when he contested on a provincial assembly ticket till 2018, Shehbaz Sharif has always played second fiddle to Nawaz. But now that his elder brother has been indefinitely disqualified from taking part in elections, this may be the opportunity Shehbaz has been waiting for.

Shehbaz is seen as one of Pakistan’s most effective politicians. In his three stints as chief minister of Punjab, he has managed to raise social indicators and revitalise trade and industry in the province. He is a strict administrator who has managed the province’s bureaucracy effectively. High profile projects like the metro bus project and the orange line train have enhanced his reputation as someone who delivers on his promises.

In his latest stint as chief minister, with the help of the federal government, Shehbaz managed to overcome Punjab’s chronic power shortage and this achievement, with the help of Chinese investment, has enhanced his popularity.

The vacuum created by the disqualification of Nawaz has given Shehbaz the opportunity to now bid for national office. “Given his past record, he will be an excellent choice for prime minister,” says analyst Asad Kharal. “Till now, his achievements had been hijacked by Nawaz. Now it is an open field for him.”

It is these kind of comments that have caused friction between the two brothers in the past. Till their father, Muhammad Sharif was alive, the two would obey him without question. But after his death, there have been times when Shehbaz has expressed his displeasure over Nawaz’s decisions, though never in public.

The most recent such incident was when Nawaz wanted to make his daughter Maryam Nawaz the PML-N president. Shehbaz reacted strongly and was eventually was given the mantle earlier this year.

Recently, Shehbaz has been under fire for the rally he held to welcome Nawaz back to Lahore. Critics say that instead of pushing ahead and confronting the law enforcement agencies, Shehbaz was content to stay at a distance and do little else. “He betrayed his brother,” claimed one Nawaz supporter.

Unlike his brother, Shehbaz has a more colourful personality. He is also known for his many wives. His first wife was by an arranged marriage to his cousin. His current wife is the author Tehmina Durrani — a woman known to have very strong opinions of her own. In between, there have been many others. One such woman who Shehbaz married briefly goes by the name “Honey” and has a underpass by her name near her house. No matter what the official name is, most Lahore residents know it as the “Honey underpass”.

He is also known to speak his mind, sometimes in public rallies, at great cost to himself. In a recent visit to Karachi, he made fun of the residents’ accent and called them the “pan-wallahs.” This remark — for which he has never apologised — may have cost him any chance of a win in Karachi.

Speaking at a rally in Sargodha city over the weekend, Shehbaz claimed that the audience can “change my name” if he did not take Pakistan ahead of India in power generation. “If I do not end load shedding crisis in six months, you can change my name,” he said. “They (Indians) will come to Wagah Border and call Pakistanis their ustaad.”

He added that he would visit Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan to learn from them and make Pakistan a great nation again.

In jest he also said that U-turn signs in Lahore should be removed from roads and should be replaced by the picture of Imran Khan, “given the number of times Imran Khan has done a U turn and changes his stance on matters”.

As things stand, Shehbaz remains well in the race for premiership if election results do not go as planned for the establishment. Many say that this would be the best news for Pakistan in many years.

First Published: Jul 23, 2018 08:34 IST