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by AFP and Newsweek Pakistan

File Photo. Rizwan Tabassum—AFP

Who could be Pakistan’s next prime minister?

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was on Friday ousted from the top office by the Supreme Court, but as the head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party he will be able to nominate his successor.

Sharif’s chosen candidate will be put to a vote in the National Assembly—a rubber stamp affair as the PMLN holds a strong majority in the House. His daughter Maryam Nawaz is commonly touted as his political heir, but she does not currently hold elected office so cannot be a candidate this time around.

Pakistani politics often see dark horses emerge, but the most likely candidates for the country’s next prime minister are as follows:

Shahbaz Sharif

Speculation within the vocal local media suggests that the party is planning to bring in an interim prime minister for a few weeks before electing Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz Sharif to the post. The young Sharif is currently chief minister of Punjab province—the Sharif family stronghold. He would have to step down from that role and be elected to the National Assembly before he was eligible to become prime minister. That will require a party loyalist to resign from his seat in Parliament, sparking a hasty vote that Shahbaz would contest on the PMLN ticket.

Shahbaz is considered more intelligent but less charismatic than his older brother. He has controlled Punjab—Pakistan’s most populous and prosperous province—for much of the last decade, presiding over a series of big ticket infrastructure projects, including Pakistan’s first metro bus service.

Khawaja Muhammad Asif

Defense Minister Khawaja Asif is one of the most trusted allies of the outgoing prime minister and considered the mostly likely to succeed him. The former banker has held a series of key positions within the PMLN since 1991. He was elected to the National Assembly from his home district of Sialkot—an important manufacturing center in Punjab province—since 1993. He is viewed as a strong critic of the military and commentators say that his hardline stance against the Army has created problems for Sharif.

Sardar Ayaz Sadiq

The speaker of the National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq is another strong candidate for next prime minister who is said to have the ear of the ruling Sharif family.

Sadiq gained Sharif’s trust after he defeated the PMLN leader’s main rival, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, in a hotly contested race for a Lahore seat in the 2013 general election. Sadiq lost the seat two years later following allegations of vote rigging, only to be re-elected in a by-election, narrowly beating another close aide of Khan. He was restored as the speaker after his re-election.

Sadiq began his political career as a supporter of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, but quit to contest the 2002 elections on a PMLN ticket.

Ahsan Iqbal

A U.S.-educated lawmaker, Ahsan Iqbal hails from a political family that has long been associated with Sharif’s PMLN party. Iqbal is considered the development brains of the party and a visionary leader.

He currently heads the federal planning and development ministry, having previously served as minister for education and minorities. He has also worked as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission from 1998 to 1999 during Sharif’s second term.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi

Petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has served in the cabinets of Yousaf Raza Gilani and Nawaz Sharif—both leaders ousted from office by the Supreme Court. He was considered a favorite due to his familiar ties with the military, but sources have said that he is not interested in assuming the top office.

Abbasi is businessman and is the owner of Airblue Airlines after having served as chairman of the Pakistan International Airlines during Sharif’s second tenure as prime minister.

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