Pakistan is gearing up for its national elections amidst a backdrop of economic turmoil and political instability following the removal of former Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2022. Here’s an overview of the key political figures vying to lead the country’s 241 million people:
Nawaz Sharif: The former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, emerges as a leading contender to helm the nation. Having reconciled a longstanding feud with the influential military, the 74-year-old chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) returned from a four-year self-imposed exile in the UK last year. Despite previous corruption convictions, overturned by courts, Sharif aims for a fourth term to tackle the country’s economic challenges and rampant inflation. Questions linger over his health and willingness to lead a coalition government if his party falls short of a majority.
Maryam Nawaz Sharif: Nawaz’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, holds significant sway within the PML-N and is groomed as her father’s political successor. Despite lacking prior official roles, the 50-year-old has been a prominent figure in rallying support for her father, especially during his exile. Analysts note her increasing prominence in political gatherings, often overshadowing Nawaz’s presence.
Shehbaz Sharif: Nawaz’s younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, served as chief minister of Punjab and briefly led a coalition government post-Imran Khan’s removal in 2022. Known for his adeptness in navigating relationships with the military, the 72-year-old played a pivotal role in averting a financial crisis by negotiating with the International Monetary Fund. His role vis-à-vis Nawaz’s return remains uncertain, though his ties with the military could prove influential if the PML-N secures victory.
Imran Khan: The embattled former prime minister, Imran Khan, finds himself incarcerated during the election period due to a slew of corruption charges. Despite denying wrongdoing, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party faces electoral challenges, including being barred from contesting under its symbol. Khan’s popularity persists, but his party’s prospects remain uncertain, with analysts questioning its ability to secure a majority.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and former President Asif Ali Zardari, spearheads a notable campaign focusing on youth empowerment and climate change mitigation. Despite unlikely odds of outright victory, the 35-year-old’s Pakistan People’s Party could wield significant influence in coalition negotiations, given the absence of a clear frontrunner.
As Pakistan braces for electoral outcomes, the country navigates a complex political landscape, with each leader vying to address pressing socio-economic challenges while grappling with entrenched power dynamics.