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Pakistan lawmakers elect new prime minister — who's likely to step aside in 45 days

Pakistan lawmakers elect new prime minister — who's likely to step aside in 45 days
Pakistan's former petroleum minister and prime minister-designate Shahid Khaqan Abbasi arrives at the Parliament House to casts his vote during the election for interim prime minister in Islamabad on August 1, 2017. (AAMIR QURESHI / AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistan's lawmakers have elected Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to replace Nawaz Sharif as prime minister after Sharif was ousted in a corruption probe last week, but few expect Abbasi to stay in power.

Abbasi was sworn in late Tuesday. But Sharif's ruling party, which backed him, has said it wants him to serve only temporarily, until Sharif's younger brother Shahbaz qualifies — a move that could take at least 45 days — and that opponents dismissed as undemocratic.

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U.S. Ambassador David Hale tweeted his congratulations to Abbasi.

"We look forward to working with him to advance our shared interests in a secure, democratic, peaceful, and prosperous Pakistan and region," Hale said.

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Opposition groups had nominated five candidates for the office, but Abbasi sailed past, winning 221 of 342 votes in the assembly where Sharif's party holds sway. After the vote, lawmakers chanted Sharif's name.

The next general elections are in June.

In his televised address following Tuesday's vote, the new prime minister vowed to get to work — however long he stays.

"I may be here for 45 days or 45 hours, but I'm not here to keep the seat warm," Abbasi said. "I intend to work and get some important things done."

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In an emotional speech delivered from a podium bearing a picture of the former prime minister, Abbasi defended Sharif, insisted he was not corrupt and that he was unfairly targeted. He vowed to run the country strictly according to the constitution, and said he hopes Sharif will one day return to parliament.

"I am grateful to the people of Pakistan, and I am grateful to the prime minister of the people of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif," Abbasi said, adding that he would not discuss last week's court decision that led Sharif to resign.

"There will soon be another court, held by the people of Pakistan," he said, referring to the general elections next year, and insisting Sharif, who has been at odds with military leaders, "was punished for the development of this country."

After Abbasi was sworn in, scores of Sharif's supporters danced and chanted, holding posters and photos of the former prime minister.

"Nawaz Sharif is my prime minister," said Adnan Ali, 30. "He lives in our hearts. Nobody can erase him from there. We will elect him again and again."

Opposition leader Nazar Gondal dismissed Abbasi as little more than window dressing, "a puppet in hands of Nawaz Sharif."

"Everybody knows he will be in power for only 45 days. Nobody will accept his authority," Gondal said of the newly elected prime minister, insisting that Sharif runs his party like a family business.

"He is not ready to trust anybody but family," he said.

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Shop owner Awais Kiyani was ready for the country's leaders — and press — to move on from corruption scandals to the business of governing and boosting the lagging economy.

"I am more interested to know whether prices decrease or more employment opportunities are created. If not, it does not make a difference whether Nawaz Sharif is prime minister or Shahid Khaqan Abbasi or someone else," said Kiyani, 32.

Sahi is a special correspondent.

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