Punjab Governor Muhammad Balighur Rehman (C) administering the oath to Maryam Nawaz Sharif as Pakistan's former Prime Ministers and leader of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) party Nawaz Sharif (right) and his brother Shehbaz Sharif look on at the Governor's House in Lahore. Image Credit: AFP

LAHORE: 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.

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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.

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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, 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.
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 per cent 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.
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 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 October 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.
_ Reuters

Maryam said on 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.

Only dozen women elected

“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.

Benazir Bhutto became Pakistan’s first female leader in 1988.

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.

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.

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.