Pakistan’s major parties formally announce ruling coalition that keeps Imran Khan shut out

Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb 21: Two of Pakistan’s dynastic political parties have formally announced the formation of a coalition government. This move brings an end to nearly two weeks of negotiations and likely keeps an incarcerated Imran Khan out of power despite his affiliates winning the most seats in the country’s controversial election.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) announced the coalition late Tuesday, naming former premier Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister and Asif Ali Zardari as president.

“I had offered the independent candidates to form the government first as nobody had a clear mandate; now we have the required number,” Sharif said during the news conference. “It would not be an easy ride. We will work together to bring this country on the path of development and progress.”

The development comes after the South Asian nation’s general election failed to produce a decisive winner earlier this month.

Independent candidates affiliated with former Prime Minister Khan’s Pakistan Tehereek-e-Insaf (PTI) party secured the most parliamentary seats, in a stunning victory for the jailed cricket icon.

But none of the three major parties that contested won the necessary seats to declare a majority in parliament.

Shortly after the coalition announcement, the PTI accused the PMLN and PPP of stealing their mandate to govern.

“Together they stole the nation’s mandate now together they’ll loot the country but the nation will not let that happen,” Khan’s party wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The PTI was effectively banned from contesting this month’s general election after its cricket bat symbol, used on ballots to identify candidates, was removed and party members’ speeches were barred from airing on television. PTI members instead stood as independent candidates.

The party also made claims of wide-scale poll rigging, with Khan releasing a statement from prison last week saying: “I warn against the misadventure of forming a government with stolen votes. Such daylight robbery will not only be a disrespect to the citizens but will also push the country’s economy further into a downward spiral.”

A steel dynasty scion, former premier Shehbaz Sharif is the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, a three-time former Pakistani prime minister.

Shehbaz Sharif was sworn in as Pakistan’s prime minister in April 2022, after Khan was dramatically ousted from power in a parliamentary no-confidence vote, setting the stage for a tense political showdown between the two men.

Khan has since been jailed and sentenced to at least 14 years in prison on multiple charges, including corruption and revealing state secrets.

Sharif is on course to become prime minister for the second time, with Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of Pakistan’s slain former leader Benazir Bhutto, by his side.

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