Former Sharif Ally Forms New Party to Change Pakistan’s Politics

(Bloomberg) -- Former Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi launched a new party on Saturday as part of his fallout with the country’s powerful Sharif clan, amid growing public anger with the government’s austerity measures.

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Abbasi, who led the country between 2017 and 2018, unveiled Awam Pakistan, or the People’s Pakistan party, with a group of former members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or PML-N. The former premier was a PML-N stalwart and an ally of de facto leader Nawaz Sharif for more than three decades until he left the party last year.

“Pakistan is lacking political and economic stability,” Abbasi said while introducing his party in Islamabad. “The people of Pakistan have tried and tested all other parties.”

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who’s from PML-N and is Nawaz Sharif’s brother, raised taxes by record amounts as well as energy prices, as Pakistan looks to clinch a new loan program with the International Monetary Fund to shore up an economy that’s reeling from a debt repayment crisis. Abbasi has criticized the latest government budget, calling it the worst in Pakistan’s history.

The political temperature is also on the boil with firebrand Imran Khan challenging the results of the February elections that saw his candidates sweep the most seats. Abbasi has criticized the powerful military and the Sharif family who control PML-N for rigging the elections — which they’ve repeatedly denied.

Awam Pakistan leaders have said recent governments headed by Sharif and Khan have been in league with the military establishment.

“Imran Khan’s favorite ally is the army which he had allied with in the past and will try to ally with in future as well,” Miftah Ismail, a former finance minister who’s part of the new party, said in an interview this week. “Nawaz Sharif too is in an alliance with the army today.”

In the election earlier this year, former prime minister Khan’s party members were barred from contesting using their official name and election symbol. They still came first in the Feb. 8 polls, in a sign of simmering public discontentment with the PML-N government and the military.

“The constitution will define our relations with the army because the country gets destroyed when the relations between the army and politicians go beyond the constitution,” Abbasi said in a television interview on Friday.

Abbasi was picked by Nawaz Sharif to become prime minister in August 2017.

A close aide of the Sharifs for 35 years, Abbasi parted ways with the family and the party last year on what he said concerns they were not acting democratically. He was replaced as PML-N vice-president by Sharif’s daughter and political heir, Maryam Nawaz.

“The party has been created out of frustration with the two major dynastic parties in Pakistan’s politics,” said Madiha Afzal, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The party will have an uphill task becoming successful at the national level because of Pakistan’s parliamentary elections. It will be hard to displace the vote share” of the current political parties, she said.

Miftah Ismail, who left PML-N in 2023, was Shehbaz Sharif’s finance minister in his first tenure two years ago, and Zafar Mirza, an ex-health minister and Imran Khan’s aide, have also joined the new party.

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