Who is Pakistan PM frontrunner Shehbaz Sharif, the 'can-do' administrator?

Sharif, 70, led a successful bid by the opposition in parliament to topple Imran Khan in a no-confidence vote

Shehbaz Sharif, 70, the person most likely to be Pakistan's next prime minister, is not well known outside his home country, but has a reputation domestically more as an effective administrator than a politician.

The younger brother of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz led a successful bid by the opposition in parliament to topple Imran Khan in a no-confidence vote early on Sunday that Mr Khan's supporters tried for hours to block.

Who is Shehbaz Sharif?

Analysts say Shehbaz, unlike his brother Nawaz, enjoys amicable relations with Pakistan's military, which traditionally controls foreign and defence policy in the nuclear-armed nation of 220 million people.

Pakistan's generals have directly intervened to topple civilian governments three times — and no prime minister has finished a full five-year term since the South Asian state's independence from Britain in 1947.

Shehbaz, part of the wealthy Sharif dynasty, is best-known for his direct, “can-do” administrative style, which was on display when, as chief minister of Punjab province, he worked closely with China on Beijing-funded projects.

He also said in an interview last week that good relations with the US were critical for Pakistan for better or for worse, in stark contrast to Mr Khan's recently antagonistic relationship with Washington.

Once Shehbaz takes office, analysts say he faces immediate challenges, not least Pakistan's crumbling economy, which has been hit by high inflation, a tumbling local currency and rapidly declining foreign exchange reserves.

Analysts also say Shehbaz will not act with complete independence as he will have to work on a collective agenda with the other opposition parties and his brother.

Nawaz has lived for the past two years in London since being released from jail — where he was serving a sentence for corruption — for medical treatment.

How is he viewed within politics?

As chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, Shehbaz planned and executed a number of ambitious infrastructure mega-projects, including the country's first modern mass transport system, in his home town, the eastern city of Lahore.

Local media reported that the departing Chinese consul general wrote to Shehbaz last year praising his “Punjab speed” execution of projects under the huge China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative.

The diplomat also said Shehbaz and his party would be friends of China in government or in opposition.

On Afghanistan, Islamabad is under international pressure to prod the Taliban to meet its human rights commitments while trying to limit instability there.

Shehbaz Sharif has a reputation domestically as more of an effective administrator than a politician. Reuters

Unlike Mr Khan, who has regularly denounced India's Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Sharif political dynasty has been dovish towards the fellow nuclear-armed neighbour, with which Pakistan has fought three wars.

In terms of his relationship with the powerful military, Shehbaz has long played the public good cop to Nawaz's bad cop, with the latter having had several public spats with the army.

Who are the Sharifs?

Shehbaz was born in Lahore, to a wealthy industrial family and educated locally. After that, he entered the family business and jointly owns a Pakistani steel company.

He entered politics in Punjab, becoming its chief minister for the first time in 1997, before he was caught up in national political upheaval and imprisoned after a military coup. He was then sent into exile in Saudi Arabia in 2000.

Shehbaz returned from exile in 2007 to resume his political career, again in Punjab.

He entered the national political scene when he became the chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, after Nawaz was found guilty in 2017 on charges of concealing assets related to the Panama Papers revelations.

The Sharif family and supporters say the cases were politically motivated.

Both brothers have faced numerous corruption cases filed by the National Accountability Bureau, including under Mr Khan's premiership, but Shehbaz has not been found guilty on any charges.

Why is he being elected now?

No prime minister has completed a full five-year tenure in Pakistan's 75-year history — a trend extended with the ousting of Mr Khan.

Pakistan, a parliamentary democracy for most of its history, has had a total of 29 prime ministers since 1947 — one of whom took on the role twice in one year.

Supporters of Imran Khan, who has been removed as Pakistan's prime minister, attend a protest rally in Karachi. EPA

Prime ministers have been removed 18 times for different reasons, including corruption charges, military coups, forced resignations caused by infighting among ruling groups, and one assassination.

In 1993, there were five changes in the role.

The shortest tenure for a prime minister in the country's history was two weeks, while the longest was four years and two months.

Nawaz Sharif was elected prime minister three times — in 1990, 1997 and 2013 — the most for a single candidate.

Updated: April 11, 2022, 12:11 PM