Nawaz Sharif's daughter takes helm of Pakistan's most populous province Punjab - GulfToday

Nawaz Sharif's daughter takes helm of Pakistan's most populous province Punjab


Governor Punjab Balighur Rehman administers oath to Maryam Nawaz (2nd R) during a ceremony at the Governor's House in Lahore on Monday. AFP

Tariq Butt, Correspondent / AFP

The daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif took control of Pakistan's most populous region on Monday, becoming the country's first woman to govern a province.

Maryam Nawaz was elected chief minister in her family's long-time power base of Punjab province, after Pakistan held national and provincial polls on Feb.8.

Her father — widely known as the "Lion of Punjab" — was prime minister three times, his last stint ending in 2017.

Her uncle Shahbaz Sharif, also a previous premier, looks set to rule again after the family's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party agreed to govern in coalition with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

The alliance also saw the PPP's Punjab lawmakers back Maryam for the chief minister's office, where she will preside over the province of 127 million Pakistanis — more than half the national populace.

Amid boycotts and delays, the Punjab Assembly elected the first female chief minister belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).


She clinched an overwhelming victory with 220 votes against rival Rana Aftab Ahmed Khan of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), which boycotted the proceedings protesting that the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) has not been allotted special seats for women and minorities.

Ahead of the session, Maryam first visited her mother’s grave and then arrived at the Punjab Assembly.

Governor Baleeghur Rehman later administered the oath to her as the chief minister. Sitting with her on the stage were her father Nawaz Sharif and uncle Shahbaz Sharif, who has been nominated for the position of the prime minister.

However, the Punjab assembly session began almost two hours later than scheduled as the SIC alleged its members were not allowed to enter the assembly premises. When the ball finally got rolling at 1pm, 103 SIC lawmakers staged a walkout.

Following the boycott, Speaker Malik Ahmed Khan announced that the session would continue in the absence of the SIC members and signalled the members present in the house to gather on opposite sides of the aisle after which voting was held.

After the oath taking ceremony, Maryam said that her appointment was "the making of history."

"It is a victory for every woman, a triumph for every daughter and mother," she told regional lawmakers after they elected her to the role.

"It is proof that being a woman and being a daughter cannot constrain your dreams."

Punjab proving ground

Nepotism and cronyism are entrenched in Pakistani politics, with family connections sometimes boosting elite daughters into power despite social conservatism shutting most women out.

Benazir Bhutto became Pakistan's first female prime minster in 1988 but the opportunity was credited to her lineage in the Bhutto dynasty which has historically rivalled the Sharifs, rather than social progress.

Only around a dozen women were elected to national office in this month's elections. Most female lawmakers enter parliament in seats reserved for women and religious minorities.

Female politicians also face sexist criticism in patriarchal Pakistan, and Maryam has in the past been targeted over her appearance and taunted with suggestive remarks.

Analysts suggest the 50-year-old is being groomed to succeed the Sharif brothers, who are in their 70s and have suffered ailing health.

Both served as Punjab chief minister before leading the country. Maryam's cousin Hamza Shahbaz also recently held the post.

Like her father Nawaz, Maryam has been jailed in the past over graft.

PML-N had been tipped to win this month's polls after securing the backing of the powerful military establishment.

But jailed ex-prime minister Imran Khan delivered a surprise result at the polls, with candidates loyal to him securing more seats than any other party despite a crackdown which crippled their campaign.


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