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Pakistan stalemate: Nawaz Sharif one step closer to prime minister’s job as Bilawal Bhutto drops out of race

Pakistan is a step closer to forming a new government after Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Tuesday pledged support to rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Tuesday dropped out of the prime ministerial race and said his party would support any candidate proposed by the PML-N, led by Nawaz Sharif.

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (centre) and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) party, along with his younger brother and former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (right), and his daughter Maryam Nawaz (left). (AFP)

Bhutto also said her party would not join the cabinet.

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“If this house fails to elect a prime minister and fails to form a government, then we will have to go back to re-elections and this will lead to another perpetuation of this political crisis,” Bilawal Bhutto said at a briefing on Tuesday. “Pakistan People’s Party will not accept ministries in the government and will support the government issue by issue.”

Replying to a question, Bilawal said that his father and former president Asif Ali Zardari would be the presidential candidate because he is capable of taking the country out of its current problems.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif reaffirmed that his elder brother Nawaz Sharif would become the country’s prime minister.

“I said Nawaz Sharif would be prime minister for the fourth time. And today I maintain that he will be prime minister for the fourth time,” Shehbaz said at a press conference.

Bhutto’s announcement and Shehbaz Sharif’s reaffirmation have paved the way for Nawaz Sharif to become prime minister for a record fourth time.

Nawaz Sharif’s possible return to power comes after a tumultuous period marked by legal battles, exile and political maneuvering.

Major Sharif has been involved in politics for almost five decades and has a history of disagreements with generals. He was ousted three times as prime minister. In 2017, Pakistan’s Supreme Court disqualified him from office over corruption charges stemming from the Panama Papers scandal. Later, he was also convicted and sentenced to prison in different corruption cases. Following his overthrow from power and subsequent legal problems, Nawaz Sharif went into exile in London for medical treatment.

Pakistani voters delivered a fractured mandate in the February 8 election results.

Independent candidates, mostly backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s PTI party, won 101 seats in the 266-member National Assembly, followed by former prime minister Nawaz’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Sharif with 75 seats. and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), of former Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, with 54 seats.

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