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Sharif’s daughter takes helm of Pakistan’s most populous region

By AFP - Feb 26,2024 - Last updated at Feb 26,2024

This handout photo taken and released by the Directorate General Public Relations of Punjab province on Monday, shows Punjab Governor Muhammad Balighur Rehman take oath during a ceremony helmed by newly elected Chief Minister of Punjab province Maryam Nawaz Sharif as Pakistan’s former Prime Ministers and leader of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Party Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shehbaz Sharif look on at the Governor’s House in Lahore (AFP photo /Directorate General Public Relations of Punjab province)

LAHORE, Pakistan — The daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif took control of Pakistan’s most populous region on Monday, becoming the country’s first woman to govern a province.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif was elected chief minister in her family’s long-time power base of Punjab province, after Pakistan held national and provincial polls on February 8.

Her father — widely known as the “Lion of Punjab” — served as Pakistan’s prime minister three times, his last stint ending in 2017.

Her uncle Shehbaz, also a previous premier, looks set to rule again after the family’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party agreed to govern in coalition with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

The alliance also saw the PPP’s Punjab lawmakers back Maryam for the chief minister’s office, where she will preside over the province of 127 million Pakistanis — more than half the national populace.

Maryam said Monday that her appointment was “the making of history”.

“It is a victory for every woman, a triumph for every daughter and mother,” she told regional lawmakers after they elected her to the role.

“It is proof that being a woman and being a daughter cannot constrain your dreams,” she said, ahead of a swearing-in ceremony scheduled for later that day.

Nepotism and cronyism are entrenched in Pakistani politics, with family connections sometimes boosting elite daughters into power despite social conservatism shutting most women out.

Benazir Bhutto became Pakistan’s first female leader in 1988 but the opportunity was credited to her lineage in the Bhutto dynasty which has historically rivalled the Sharifs, rather than social progress.

Only around a dozen women were elected to national office in this month’s elections. Most female lawmakers enter parliament in seats reserved for women and religious minorities.

Female politicians also face sexist criticism in patriarchal Pakistan, and Maryam has in the past been targeted over her appearance and taunted with suggestive remarks.


Punjab proving ground 


Analysts suggest the 50-year-old is being groomed to succeed the Sharif brothers, who are in their 70s and have suffered ailing health.

Both served as Punjab chief minister before leading the country. Maryam’s cousin Hamza Shahbaz also recently held the post.

Like her father Nawaz, Maryam has been jailed in the past over graft.

PML-N had been tipped to win this month’s polls after securing the backing of the powerful military establishment.

But jailed ex-prime minister Imran Khan delivered a surprise result at the polls, with candidates loyal to him securing more seats than any other party despite a crackdown which crippled their campaign.

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