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ISLAMABAD: Omar Ayub Khan (4th right), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party’s nominee for prime minister speaks as Gohar Ali Khan (3rd left seated), PTI’s chairman and barrister with Sahibzada Muhammad Hamid Raza (3rd right), leader of the political group Sunni Ittehad Council watches during a press conference following their coalition in Islamabad.- AFP
ISLAMABAD: Omar Ayub Khan (4th right), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party’s nominee for prime minister speaks as Gohar Ali Khan (3rd left seated), PTI’s chairman and barrister with Sahibzada Muhammad Hamid Raza (3rd right), leader of the political group Sunni Ittehad Council watches during a press conference following their coalition in Islamabad.- AFP
Pakistan’s upcoming coalition government: The main players

ISLAMABAD: After a split-verdict in Pakistan’s general election this month, a broad alliance of parties have agreed to form a coalition government. The arrangement mirrors the one that ousted Imran Khan back in 2022 - kickstarting two years of political chaos which saw his party survive a crackdown to deliver surprise success at the polls. Here is a look at the main players:

The Sharif Clan

The Sharifs are one of the two families who have ruled Pakistan for decades, and were expected to claim victory in the February 8 polls with the backing of the powerful military establishment. Their Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will be the senior coalition partner and, according to a deal announced late Tuesday, Shehbaz Sharif will be the prime minister. In the run-up to the election, his elder brother Nawaz — a three-time former prime minister — returned from self-imposed exile in the UK and was touted as the candidate for premier. Dubbed the “Lion of Punjab”, the PML-N puppetmaster is often draped in a Gucci scarf and yet admired by supporters for his approachable “man of the soil” demeanour.

The 74-year-old was sidelined from the 2018 election which carried Khan to power with the military’s blessing. His return was seen as a sign that his relationship with the top brass was mended. But with weak election results, the task of leading has been handed to 72-year-old Shehbaz — considered a softer personality, a better mediator and more pliable to military influence. Shehbaz, who is a cancer survivor and often appears in public sporting a facemask, was prime minister in the coalition ousting Khan. But analysts say Nawaz will be the “power behind the throne”.

The Bhutto dynasty

The Bhuttos — hailing from the lineage of assassinated ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto — have agreed their Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) will be junior coalition partners, alongside several smaller parties. They have secured in return the largely ceremonial role of president for Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir’s widow and an ex-president nicknamed “Mr 10 percent” — the alleged cut he took on government contracts. The 68-year-old last came to power on a sympathy vote after Benazir’s killing and was twice jailed on charges related to corruption, drug smuggling and murder — although he never faced trial.

His floppy-haired son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, 35, is the PPP leader and was foreign minister in the coalition which ousted Khan two years ago. But analysts predict Zardari will use it to steer the PPP, ostensibly helmed by his son, as it participates in a coalition facing a host of tough economic choices. Ministerial roles for the new government have yet to be announced but the National Assembly must convene by February 29, when the coalition can be confirmed.

Khan’s ‘independents’

Khan sat out the election in jail whilst his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was barred from campaigning, with leaders rounded up and candidates forced to run as independents. Despite the crackdown at the hands of the military establishment Khan fell out with, candidates loyal to PTI took more seats than any other party — but not enough to form a government.

PTI claim the ballot was subject to widespread rigging denying them a majority government, with a cover-up managed by a mobile internet outage on polling day and a massive delay in results. When former cricket star Khan, 71, was ousted in 2022 his lawmakers withdrew from parliament in protest over a no-confidence motion that he said was a US-backed conspiracy.

But this time independents loyal to PTI have allied with fringe party the Sunni Ittehad Council, which they hope will allow them to claim a quota of seats reserved for women and minorities. If approved by the election commission, the party says it could attempt to form a government with chief organizer Omar Ayub Khan their candidate for prime minister. But like the Sharifs and the Bhuttos, the real power of the party will remain with a man behind the scenes—in this case, Imran Khan who is serving several lengthy prison sentences. — AFP

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