The country’s newly elected leader, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, finds himself in an interesting, and novel, position.
As the new Prime Minister it is his responsibility to set out an agenda for his tenure, nominate the members of his cabinet and ensure a smooth transition between the last administration and the new one.
However, his is not that new administration. Mr Abbasi was elected with the knowledge that he is essentially holding down the spot until Shehbaz Sharif can fulfil the necessary requirements to become Prime Minister. At least, that was the initial stated position. There was a 45 day timer on the job; it would not have been unreasonable to expect Mr Abbasi to continue the policies of his predecessor, attempt nothing new and controversial, and wait out the next month and a half.
There is increasing speculation on the PML-N leadership’s initial decision; there are rumours abound that Shehbaz Sharif is contemplating staying in the Chief Minister’s chair for the time being, only to assume the mantle of Prime Minister in 2018, after fresh elections. With close confidantes such as Rana Sanaullah arguing against the move, and opposition parties readying themselves to get the younger Sharif brother embroiled in questions of accountability like his brother, the ‘interim’ government might just see out the remaining term without any change at the top. At the moment in any case, the new Prime Minister is here and a confirmation of any change can only come on August 7, when the nomination papers for the vacated NA-120 will be filed.
In his maiden speech to the National Assembly following his election on Tuesday, the new PM put forward his vision to improve the socio-economic conditions and security situation in the country; widen the tax-net and go after tax-evaders in the Parliament; end the energy shortfall; attempt to revive the agricultural sector and cancel all automatic weapons licenses held by the citizens.
Despite gallantly claiming that he will do 45 years of work in 45 days, the truth is that his agenda is comprised of lofty – and at the moment ill-defined – goals that cannot be accomplished in this short period of time. Of these, the most self-sustained objective – curbing privately owned automatic weapon ownership – would require a long negotiation with stakeholders and industry interests, before that negotiation has to be replicated in both houses of the Parliament. Even if we are to assume that Mr Abbasi will hold on to the premiership for the next ten months, the job might not get much easier.
The only thing that is expected immediately however, is to pick a Cabinet, and Mr Abbasi has already begun the process of doing so by paying a visit to Nawaz Sharif in his current residence in Murree to begin consultation on the subject. The current Cabinet of Nawaz Sharif appointees also need to be considered. How many of them would be part the new leadership, and will some of them be included with a fresh face in mind?