Islamabad (AP): Pakistan’s parliament on Monday elected opposition lawmaker Shahbaz Sharif as the new prime minister, following a week of political turmoil that led to the weekend ouster of Premier Imran Khan.
Sharif took the oath of office inside the stately, white marble palace known as the Presidency in a brief ceremony.
But his elevation won’t guarantee a peaceful path forward or solve the country’s many economic problems, including high inflation and a soaring energy crisis.
Sharif, the brother of disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, won with 174 votes after more than 100 lawmakers from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or Pakistan Justice Party, resigned and walked out of the National Assembly in protest.
Those 174 votes two more than the required simple majority are enough to pass laws in the 342-seat assembly. If Khan’s followers take to the streets, as he has vowed, it could create more pressure on lawmakers and deepen the crisis.
Khan, a former cricket star whose conservative Islamist ideology and dogged independence characterized his three years and eight months in office, was ousted early Sunday. He lost a no-confidence vote after being deserted by his party allies and a key coalition partner.
In a show of strength and a precursor to the political uncertainty ahead, Khan rallied hundreds of thousands of supporters in protests Sunday night, describing the new leadership as an “imposed government’’ that colluded with the U.S. to oust him. His backers marched in cities across Pakistan, waving large party flags and shouted slogans promising to return him to power. The crowds were dominated by youths who make up the backbone of Khan’s supporters.
The political drama began April 3 when Khan sidestepped an initial no-confidence vote demanded by the opposition by dissolving parliament and calling early elections. The opposition, which accuses Khan of economic mismanagement, appealed to the Supreme Court. After four days of deliberations, the court said Khan’s move was illegal and the no-confidence vote went ahead, leading to his ouster.
Khan has demanded early elections _ the balloting is not due before August 2023. He has tapped into anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, accusing Washington of conspiring with his opponents to topple him. That conspiracy theory resonates with his youthful base, which often sees the U.S. war on terrorism after 9/11 as unfairly targeting Pakistan.
Khan claims Washington opposes him because of his independent foreign policy favoring China and Russia. He was criticized for a visit he made on Feb. 24 to Moscow, where he met with President Vladimir Putin as Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine.
The U.S. State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistan’s internal politics.
China, which is Pakistan’s key ally and investor, said Monday it would support any government.
“As Pakistan’s close neighbor and iron-clad friend, we sincerely hope that all factions in Pakistan will remain united and work together for national stability and development,’’ Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a briefing. “I would like to emphasize that no matter how the political situation changes in Pakistan, China will unswervingly adhere to its friendly policy toward Pakistan.’’
China is heavily invested in Pakistan in its multibillion-dollar global initiative to link south and central Asia to Beijing.
Pakistan’s longtime rival India also sent congratulations to Sharif, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying his country “desires peace and stability.’’ The two countries have fought three wars, coming dangerously close to a fourth over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is divided between the two and claimed by both.
The opposition coalition consists of parties that cross the political divide, from the left to the radically religious. The two largest parties are the Pakistan Muslim League, headed by Sharif, and the Pakistan People’s Party, co-chaired by the son and husband of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister who was killed in 2007.

By Kathy Gannon