Pakistan's largest parties strike deal on coalition government

Power-sharing agreement between PML-N and PPP includes prime minister's post for Shehbaz Sharif and presidency for Asif Ali Zardari

Shehbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party held the prime minister's post previously from April 2022 to August last year. EPA
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The long-established Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have confirmed reaching a deal to form a coalition government after nearly two weeks of talks following the February 8 general election.

The parties said they had secured enough support from smaller parties to be able to form the government, and had agreed to nominate PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif for the prime minister’s post and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari for the presidency.

“Both the parties have the numbers to form a government,” PPP co-chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Mr Zardari and slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said at a joint press conference late on Tuesday.

The agreement brings to a close a period of political uncertainty after an inconclusive election in which independent candidates allied to jailed former prime minister Imran Khan secured the highest number of seats.

Candidates backed by Khan won 92 seats in the National Assembly – the lower house of parliament – while the PML-N won 79 seats and the PPP 54.

Khan was unable to stand for election after receiving jail terms in a number of cases, while his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party was effectively barred from fielding candidates after the election commission banned it from using its election symbol.

Under the power-sharing agreement announced on Tuesday, the PML-N will get the offices of prime minister, parliament speaker and chief minister of the Punjab provincial government, and will also nominate the governors of Sindh and Balochistan provinces.

The PPP will get the offices of president, Senate chairman, deputy parliament speaker and Balochistan chief minister, and will nominate the governors Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The party has declined to accept any Cabinet posts in the federal government.

Mr Sharif served as prime minister from early 2022 until August last year after Khan was ousted from the post in a no-confidence vote. He is the brother of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who led the PML-N campaign after returning from self-imposed exile ahead of the elections. Mr Zardari previously served as president from 2008 to 2013.

This will be the third time that the two parties have joined forces to govern Pakistan. They first formed a coalition government after elections in 2008, and again in 2022 after removing Khan as prime minister in a no-confidence vote also supported by smaller parties.

PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal said their past association would ensure that the new government worked smoothly to tackle the country’s problems, including an economic crisis that has pushed inflation up to nearly 30 per cent.

“Both the PML-N and PPP have already developed a working relationship as they had formed the government soon after ousting Imran Khan through a no-confidence vote in the recent past,” Mr Iqbal told The National.

“Among major issues facing the government, economic stabilisation is a big one and I believe that through mutual support, the government will fare better,” he said.

At the press conference with Mr Bhutto Zardari and his father, Mr Sharif said the challenges facing the country will be “a journey of blood, sweat and sacrifice”.

Pakistan is getting by on the basis of loans, he told reporters. “We will have to end this, but it’s easier said than done.”

The PPP’s information secretary, Amjad Afridi, said the party had a track record of taking measures to help the working class.

“Our party leadership has already declared in the manifesto that if we form a government, salaries of employees would double,” Mr Afridi told The National.

Updated: February 21, 2024, 2:22 PM