Maryam Nawaz becomes Pakistan’s first woman chief minister

Islamabad, Feb 26 (IANS) Amid boycotts and delays, the Punjab Assembly on Monday elected PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz as the first female Chief Minister of the province and Pakistan, media reported.

“It is natural that when people are subject to victimisation the way I have been, they harbour hatred. I want to say today, that I do not seek revenge, nor do I have hatred for anyone,” Maryam clarified.

Maryam clinched an overwhelming victory with 220 votes against rival Rana Aftab Ahmed Khan of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), Dawn reported.

In her an hour-and-a-half-long victory speech — during which she held a frame of her late mother Kulsoom — Maryam said that she was upset at the opposition boycott.

“I wish they had been a part of the political and democratic process,” she said.

“If the opposition was present today, and if they had protested during my speech, I would have been happy,” Maryam added.

She thanked the opposition for “putting her through a struggle which has no comparison,” citing the numerous court cases, the imprisonment of her father and the death of her mother.

“I want to give a message to the opposition: the doors of my chamber and heart will always remain open for them as they are for the members of my party,” Maryam said.

Initially, the SIC — which is now home to the PTI-backed independent candidates who won the general election — had nominated Mian Aslam Iqbal, an MPA-elect from Lahore, for the slot.

However, it later replaced him with Aftab from Faisalabad, a former PPP jiyala, as Iqbal had not come to the House to take oath as MPA, fearing his arrest by the Punjab police.

Ahead of the Assembly session on Monday, Maryam first visited her mother’s grave and then arrived at the Punjab Assembly, which was scheduled to convene at 11 a.m, Dawn reported.

However, the session began almost two hours later than scheduled as the SIC alleged its MPAs were not allowed to enter the Assembly premises. When the ball finally got rolling at 1 p.m., 103 SIC lawmakers staged a walkout.

Following the boycott, Speaker Malik Ahmad Khan announced that the session would continue in the absence of the SIC members and signalled the MPAs present in the House to gather on opposite sides of the aisle after which voting was held.

Upon the completion of the process, the results were announced and Maryam was declared the 30th Chief Minister of Punjab and the first woman to rule the largest province of the country.

After the election, Maryam, alongside her father Nawaz Sharif and uncle Shehbaz Sharif, took oath as the Punjab Chief Minister at a ceremony at the Governor House, Dawn reported.

“It is natural that when people are subject to victimisation the way I have been, they harbour hatred. I want to say today, that I do not seek revenge, nor do I have hatred for anyone,” she clarified.

Maryam further highlighted that history was made with her election today and dedicated the victory to all the women in the country.

“This is a testament that being a woman (or) a daughter will not come in the way of your dreams,” she said.

Maryam also thanked her father, PML-N Supremo Nawaz Sharif, for his “handholding” and for imparting invaluable advice.

“It gives me immense pride today to be in the same seat that a visionary like Nawaz Sharif was in, who is the only person among 250 million Pakistanis to have held the position of Prime Minister three times,” she stressed and vowed to take forward the PML-N’s legacy.

She also added that the PML-N’s key objectives during her tenure would be the provision of employment, education and healthcare, Dawn reported.

“I was born in an affluent household but I got a chance to hold direct interactions with the common people and I am aware of their problems. I know the expectations they have from the government.”

“Therefore, from today onwards, after the oath, I will go to my office and begin the implementation of my manifesto,” she said.

“I know that five years are too little, 24 hours aren’t enough. Not from tomorrow, but from today, after I take the oath, I will act on my manifesto as soon as I get to my office,” she added.

She also announced a Ramazan relief package, Nigheban, for the province, Dawn reported.

She said it included essentials worth Rs 6.5 to 7 million which would be distributed to the public during Ramazan.

“The package will be delivered to their doorstep,” she said.

Maryam added that marketplaces providing essential items at subsidised rates would also be set up.

She added that she planned to transform Punjab into an “economic hub” by creating an enabling environment for businessmen.

She said the government’s job was to create policies and regulations, adding that she had plans to enhance public-private partnerships.

Maryam added that “incentives were necessary” for the private sector in order to foster economic stability.

She further said that free medicines would be provided at every government hospital across the province from today.

She vowed to build one state-of-the-art hospital in every city of Punjab.

Maryam also said that Punjab’s first air ambulance would be announced within the next 12 weeks to improve healthcare for the people living in mountainous and hilly areas.

In her speech, Maryam also asserted that the safety of women in the province was her first priority.

“Therefore, I am announcing a dedicated helpline for women,” she said.

She added that women would also be provided proper facilities, including separate washrooms and daycare centres, at workplaces.

“Harassing any woman is Maryam Nawaz’s red line,” she affirmed.

She maintained that there would be zero tolerance for police high-handedness, adding that the recent incident in Taxila — where a policeman slapped an elderly woman — would be investigated.

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