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Sharif Starts Unprecedented Third Term As Pakistani PM

  • RFE/RL

Nawaz Sharif is returning for a third term as Pakistani prime minister.

Nawaz Sharif is returning for a third term as Pakistani prime minister.

Nawaz Sharif is beginning an unprecedented third term as prime minister of Pakistan.

The 63-year-old leader took the oath of office on June 5 in Islamabad and was sworn in by President Asif Ali Zardari.

Earlier in the day, Sharif was formally voted into office by 244 of the 342 lawmakers in the newly elected National Assembly.

Speaking to the parliament's lower house after the vote, Sharif said, "Time has proved that democracy is essential for Pakistan" and the country's only choice is to "move forward on the bright path of democracy."

Sharif admitted that his administration faces huge challenges.

"Blackouts, inflation, a mountain of debt, unemployment, a ruined economy, hopelessness among the youth, extremism, and insecurity are some of the problems we are facing," he said.

"In addition, declining government institutions, pervasive corruption, and Pakistan's deteriorating international reputation are some of the other challenges. We are dealing with a jungle of troubles here."

Sharif’s return to power comes 13 years after he was deposed in a military coup. As he begins a new term, an economic revival is seen as key to ensuring stability in the country, which is beset by a multitude of other problems.

He reiterated his campaign promise to make Pakistan's economic revival a top priority.

"The central plank of our planning is to revive industrial, agricultural, and commercial activities so that Pakistan can achieve self-reliance," Sharif said. "Building a strong infrastructure is our important priority so that we can create new avenues for development and prosperity."

Uniting To Face Challenges

Sharif called for a halt to the U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas. He said that the "chapter of these daily drone attacks now must come to an end." But he also called for "addressing" the security concerns of others about threats emanating from Pakistan.

Sharif urged unity among Pakistanis and called on political opposition parties to back his policies.

"In our journey toward change, I need the support of this parliament, the enlightened people of Pakistan, and a vibrant media that can freely point out our weaknesses and help us in resolving the problems," he said. "Pakistan belongs to us all and we all have to play our roles in it."

Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N emerged with a majority in the lower house of parliament following last month's elections.

The May 11 parliamentary elections marked the first time in Pakistani history that a civilian government completed a full five-year term and handed power to another administration through elections.

The military has ruled for approximately half the period since Pakistan’s 1947 independence, staging coups three times. Despite the latest period of civilian rule, the military is still considered the country's most powerful institution.

Tariq Azeem, spokesman for Pakistan Muslim League-N, acknowledged on June 4 that there were some serious challenges facing Sharif and his government.

"It had been clear for quite some time, even before the elections, that any incoming government will have to make very tough decisions, to face grave difficulties like economy, like the law and order situation, energy crisis, and many other issues," he said.

"So, Mian Nawaz Sharif had prepared himself well. He had set up committees to advise him on all these issues. And remember that he has been prime minister twice before and has got the ability and the experience to handle these tough and difficult decisions."

Fighting Off Collapse

Sharif is entering office with the Pakistani economy in its worst shape for years, plagued by high unemployment, a declining rupee, diminishing foreign reserves, and widespread corruption.

An economic revival is seen as key to ensuring stability in the country, which is beset by a multitude of other problems.

The new government is expected to have to negotiate a multibillion-dollar bailout with the International Monetary Fund to fight off collapse.

Also high on Sharif's agenda will be efforts to find a solution to the energy crisis that leaves some consumers without electricity for up to 20 hours per day.

The shortages aggravate ordinary people and are seen as a hindrance to other moves to develop the economy. Sharif has vowed to build new power plants.

The government is also challenged by regular terrorist attacks from Taliban militants who want to topple the government, as well as attacks linked to sectarian and separatist movements.

Islamabad is also under pressure from the United States to use its influence to help Washington secure a settlement to the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.

Sharif is a wealthy steel magnate from Punjab Province. He has been a leading player in the Pakistani political establishment for years, alongside the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of current President Zardari. Slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was also a PPP leader.

Sharif was in power when Pakistan tested its first nuclear weapon in 1998.

He was toppled in a 1999 military coup by former army chief General Pervez Musharraf and spent years in exile in Saudi Arabia before returning to Pakistan in 2007 and launching his political comeback.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP