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Nawaz Sharif’s daughter elected to head Pakistan’s Punjab, seen as stepping stone

Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, gestures as she speaks during an anti-government protest rally organized by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of political opposition parties, in Peshawar, Paki

By Asif Shahzad and Mubasher Bukhari

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Pakistan’s three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was elected on Monday as the head of the country’s most populous province, Punjab, in a move underlining the expanding grip of the family in the South Asian nation.

Maryam, 50, her father’s political heir, is the first woman to be chief minister of Punjab – a post that has long been a stepping stone to becoming the country’s prime minister.

She secured 220 votes in the 371-seat provincial assembly, the Punjab assembly speaker said has he announced the results of the election that was boycotted by the opposition Sunni Ittehad Council party backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan.

Khan and his allies allege that the Feb. 8 national elections were rigged against them – an allegation denied by the country’s election commission.

“I am disappointed the opposition is not here to be part of this democratic process,” Maryam said in her address to the house after winning the election, adding that her doors were open to talks with the opposition.

Maryam is the fourth member of her family to become the chief minister of Punjab, which accounts for 53% of Pakistan’s 241 million population and 60 percent of its $350 billion GDP. It is also the home province of the Sharif family.

Her father, Nawaz Sharif, and his younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, have also been chief ministers of Punjab. Shehbaz’s son held the post for a few months last year.

Shehbaz is likely to be elected Pakistan’s prime minister for a second time when the parliament meets later this week.

FIERY ORATOR

Maryam Nawaz is known for her fiery speeches and pulling large crowds, but has not held a prominent public office before. The 2024 general election was the first time she contested the polls, and she represented her father’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

She entered mainstream politics after 2017 when she and her father were found guilty of concealing assets, and they both served jail time before their convictions were overturned.

After her father left for London in late 2019 for medical treatment, she led a countrywide campaign to take on Khan’s government, the country’s powerful military and the judiciary, who she blamed for targeting her party and family.

She has faced deep criticism from opponents, including Khan, of dynastic politics in Pakistan. But has also been targeted for being a woman leader in the socially conservative Muslim nation.

“A woman with a mind of her own who does not conform to your ideas, who is good-looking, stylish and knows it; is that the problem?” said political commentator Marvi Sirmad, referring to the critical comments against her.

Born on Oct. 28, 1973 in the eastern city of Lahore into a wealthy industrialist family, she married Safdar Awan, an army officer who was serving as a personal secretary to his father in his second term as prime minister in 1992.

They have a son, two daughters and a grand-daughter.

She studied medicine but did not complete her degree, and later got a Masters in English Literature from Punjab University.

She played a key role in establishing her party’s social media wing to combat Khan’s digital presence, and headed a youth affairs programme for her father when he was premier in 2013.

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