Ouster of Nawaz Sharif adds variables to economic corridor plan

By Lan Jiang Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/3 20:08:39

A five-member larger bench of Pakistan's Supreme Court unanimously disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over corruption charges on July 28.

As a national election will be held next year, Pakistan's lawmakers need to elect a new prime minister to replace the ousted one. The new prime minister still comes from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party as it holds a majority with 188 seats in the 342-member parliament. On July 29, PML-N announced that Chief Minister of Punjab Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif has been nominated as the new prime minister, and former petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has been named as interim leader until the nomination of Shehbaz Sharif is approved by the National Assembly.

Shahbaz Sharif, younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, has won a strong reputation because of his strong support for infrastructure construction in Punjab, the largest province and the economic center of Pakistan. Compared with his elder brother, he has built more friendly ties with the Pakistan military. He will stabilize the governing pace of PML-N and keep the ruling party from chaos.

Nawaz Sharif's resignation as Pakistan prime minister will not impede China-Pakistan relations. Some Pakistan political parties, out of their intention to grab more investment projects and play the domestic political game, have cast doubt on some specific items in their economic cooperation with China. But this will not hinder bilateral relations as no political parties in Pakistan use anti-China sentiment as political stunt and all of them are working to advance the sustainable development of China-Pakistan ties. However, the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif would likely bring some uncertainties to the ongoing China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. Pakistan political parties have some disagreements on the project, especially whether the east or west route of the project should be given priority.

Economically developed provinces like Punjab and Sindh are along the east route, while the west route goes through less-developed provinces like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Nawaz Sharif supported the east route, but opposition parties favored the west. In this regard, the CPEC project would face some uncertainties if the next election in 2018 leads to a ruling party change.

Variable factors posed by the removal of Nawaz Sharif will be remarkably decreased if PML-N or People's Party wins the 2018 election because Punjab and Sindh along the east route are the political centers of the two parties. But the Pakistan Movement for Justice party is very likely to prioritize the west route if it wins the election. In addition, as opposition parties are incredulous about PML-N's behind-the-scene manipulation in project negotiations, the possibility of reviewing some projects' negotiation processes and conditions cannot be ruled out if an opposition party takes power.

Currently, the Pakistan Movement for Justice party is paying close attention to the corruption in the Sharif family. Although the court's verdict has enhanced its morale, the party is far from capable of holding power. But we have to take into consideration the effects on the CPEC projects if it rises to power in the 2018 election.

Shahbaz Sharif will adjust the administrative pace of PML-N. The subsequent investigation into the Sharif family will exert negative effects on the governance of PML-N until the 2018 election. The Pakistan leadership change will not affect China-Pakistan ties, but perhaps will bring some variable factors to the CPEC project.

The author is a professor with the College of History and Culture, China West Normal University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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