Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s parliament has elected Imran Khan as prime minister after his party swept the general election last month, vowing to bring an era of accountability and prosperity to the South Asian country.
Members of the National Assembly voted in the capital, Islamabad, on Friday for Khan to be the leader of the house, making him Pakistan’s head of state.
Khan secured 176 votes on Friday, beating Shehbaz Sharif, president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, who got 96.
Khan will take the oath on Saturday, form a cabinet and assume control of the government in the coming days.
“In this country, before everything else, we have to make sure there is accountability,” said Khan, in a speech after the vote in parliament.
“Those who have looted this country and indebted it, I promise this today that no one will escape.”
The long-time opposition politician takes the reins of power for the first time in his 22-year political career, having led a strenuous campaign against corruption and government mismanagement since he retired as one of Pakistan’s most popular cricketers in 1992.
Following Khan’s election, opposition lawmakers loudly raised slogans and refused to be seated, forcing the speaker to briefly suspend proceedings.
The floor of the house remained chaotic throughout the session, with rival parties interrupting each other’s speeches with loud chants and slogans.
Khan, clad in a white shalwar kurta and black waistcoat, and holding a set of brown prayer beads in his hands, smiled broadly as he took his place as leader of the house.
The PTI’s election victory was marred by widespread allegations of irregularities in the vote counting process, and opposition parties on Friday decried the results as “unacceptable”.
In his speech, Khan welcomed any investigation into the election results, saying he would support the process. He also committed to empowering parliament and attending at least twice a month to answer other lawmakers’ questions.
‘End of an era’
Sharif’s party was roundly beaten at the polls in July, dropping down to 81 seats in the 342-member house, in comparison to the PTI’s 151 seats. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) came in third with 54 seats.
The PTI has heralded the election win as “the end of an era”, marking the first time anyone other than the PML-N, the PPP or the country’s powerful military has ruled Pakistan in more than four decades.
“There has been a change of generations,” said party spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry. “The priorities will now change. The old politics was synonymous with cronyism, corruption, and incompetence. Let’s hope we can end this era.”
Sharif, however, rejected the poll result on Friday, saying it was the result of rigging.
“This parliament that has come into being, it is the result of the most rigged elections in Pakistan’s history,” he claimed.
The PML-N, PPP, and others claim the country’s military – which has ruled Pakistan for roughly half of its 71-year-old history – tilted the electoral playing field in the PTI’s favor in the run-up the polls.
The military denies taking any role in politics.
Khan inherits a country facing a slew of problems, not least on the economic front, where fiscal and trade deficits have ballooned, leading to increasing public debt and dwindling foreign reserves.
The country’s public sector external debt stands at $70.2bn, or 26.6 percent of the GDP, with foreign reserves down to $10.1bn, according to the central bank.
“We will tackle issues on multiple fronts, but obviously the economic front is foremost,” said Chaudhry.
Earlier this month, PTI leader Asad Umar, widely tipped to be the country’s finance minister, said the government would consider all options to tackle the balance of payments crisis, including approaching the International Monetary Fund, bilateral loans and issuing bonds to overseas Pakistanis.
“It seems that reasonably urgent decision making is required,” he said at a briefing to media on August 7, terming the situation “dire”.