ISLAMABAD – Nawaz Sharif was elected Pakistan’s prime minister Wednesday, taking the reins of a country burdened by an entrenched insurgency, rampant corruption and an economy experiencing frequent power outages.
Parliament, dominated by Sharif’s party after it trounced parties headed by President Asif Ali Zardari and former cricketer star Imran Khan in elections last month, overwhelmingly voted for Sharif. Afterward, in a speech to lawmakers, Sharif vowed to tackle Pakistan’s “jungle of problems.”
“The nation knows that our economy is in extremely poor condition,” Sharif told parliament after receiving 244 votes in the 342-seat assembly. “We have little in financial resources. We have to pay back billions of rupees of debt. But I ensure the nation that we will struggle to change the country’s destiny.”
Sharif pledged to reshape Pakistan into a nation that would no longer be known for “extremism, insecurity, corruption, poverty and dictatorship – but a Pakistan known for good governance, development, prosperity and respect within the international community.”
Unlike the previous ruling party, Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party, Sharif’s team received a convincing mandate in the May 11 elections and did not need to cobble together a coalition government to take power.
A former steel baron and one of the country’s wealthiest man, Sharif, 63, is widely viewed as pro-business and a proponent of forging stronger economic ties with neighboring India, a nuclear archrival but also one of the world’s leading emerging markets.
Sharif’s selection marks his third term as prime minister.
One of Sharif’s biggest challenges will be the relationship he carves with the United States. Intense anti-American sentiment courses through every strata of Pakistani society, but Sharif’s team also knows it cannot afford to alienate Washington, which has channeled billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan.
The relationship was tested last week when the U.S. launched a drone strike that killed the Pakistani Taliban’s No. 2 leader, Waliur Rehman, in the North Waziristan tribal region.
On Wednesday, Sharif told parliament that “drone attacks need to stop now.”