Shehbaz Sharif, the person most likely to be Pakistan’s next prime minister, is little known outside his home country but has a domestic reputation more as an effective administrator than a politician.
The younger brother of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz, 70, led a successful opposition bid in parliament to oust leader Imran Khan in a no-confidence vote early on Sunday.
Khan’s supporters had tried for hours to block the motion.
Analysts say Shehbaz, unlike Nawaz, enjoys friendly relations with Pakistan’s military, which traditionally controls foreign and defense policy in the nuclear nation of 220 million.
Pakistani generals have directly intervened to overthrow civilian governments on three occasions, and no prime minister has completed a full five-year term since the South Asian state gained independence from Britain in 1947.
Khan’s impeachment was a chance for a fresh start, Shehbaz, the Common Opposition candidate to replace the former cricketer star as leader, said in parliament shortly after the vote.
“A new dawn has begun…this alliance will rebuild Pakistan,” he said.
Shehbaz, part of the wealthy Sharif dynasty, is best known for his direct “can-do” administrative style, which was evident when, as chief minister of Punjab province, he worked closely with China on Beijing-funded projects.
He also said in an interview last week that good relations with the United States were essential for Pakistan, in stark contrast to Khan’s recently antagonistic relationship with Washington.
There are still several procedural steps before Sharif becomes Pakistan’s 23rd prime minister – not counting caretaker administrations – although the opposition has still identified him as its only candidate.
If he takes on the role, he faces immediate challenges, including Pakistan’s crumbling economy, which has been hit by high inflation, a plummeting local currency and rapidly declining foreign exchange reserves.
Analysts say Sharif will not act independently as he will have to work on a collective agenda with other opposition parties and his brother.
Nawaz has lived in London for two years since his release from prison, where he was serving a sentence for corruption, for medical treatment.
As Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, Shehbaz Sharif planned and executed a number of ambitious infrastructure megaprojects, including Pakistan’s first modern mass transport system in his hometown, eastern city of Lahore.
According to local media, the outgoing Chinese consul general wrote to Sharif last year praising his “Punjabi speed” in executing projects under the massive China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative.
The diplomat also said that Sharif and his party would be friends of China in government or in opposition.
Regarding Afghanistan, Islamabad is under international pressure to encourage the Taliban to respect their human rights commitments while trying to limit instability there.
Unlike Khan, who has regularly denounced Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Sharif political dynasty has been more accommodating to its nuclear-armed neighbor, with whom Pakistan has fought three wars.
When it comes to his relationship with the mighty military, Sharif has long played the role of public “good cop” against Nawaz’s “bad cop” – the latter has had several public spats with the military.
Shehbaz was born in Lahore to a wealthy industrial family and educated locally. After that, he entered the family business and is a co-owner of a Pakistani steel company.
He entered politics in Punjab, becoming its first chief minister in 1997 before being caught up in a nationwide political upheaval and imprisoned following a military coup.
He was sent into exile in Saudi Arabia in 2000.
Shehbaz returned from the Gulf in 2007 to resume his political career, still in Punjab.
He entered national politics when he became the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party after his brother Nawaz was convicted in 2017 of concealing assets linked to the Panama Papers revelations. .
The Sharif family and their supporters say the cases were politically motivated.
Both brothers have faced numerous corruption cases within the National Accountability Bureau, including under Khan’s presidency, but Shehbaz has not been convicted of any charges.
Australian Associated Press