But the choice is not without risk for the Sharifs’ party, the Pakistan Muslim League.
Though he is seen as popular, Shehbaz Sharif has also been dogged by accusations of police brutality under his watch as Punjab’s chief minister. And he has been criticized for doing too little to curb extremist sectarian groups in the province.
There are long-term questions about his health, as well. Over the years, Shehbaz Sharif has undergone multiple treatments for cancer, including of the spinal cord.
His supporters insist that the hard-nosed style he was known for in early years has softened somewhat. And advisers say that his medical challenges over the years have driven his recent campaign of social development.
In a statement to The New York Times on Friday night, before his selection was publicly confirmed, Mr. Sharif acknowledged that he would be taking the reins at a critical and turbulent time.
“I will accept what is best for the country and the party,” he said. “Pakistan has to move forward no matter how great the obstacles in our path.”
His path to the prime minister’s residence in Islamabad will not be instant. Over the next 45 days, another P.M.L. figure — the current petroleum minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi — will take over as interim prime minister. Shehbaz Sharif must step down as chief minister and win election to his brother’s seat in the National Assembly in a spot election, expected in the coming weeks, before taking over as prime minister.
That initial victory is nearly assured, given the party’s firm grasp on Punjab politics. But in the coming year, the Sharifs’ rivals, and in particular the former cricket star and political opposition leader Imran Khan, will seek to shake the P.M.L.’s dominance in Punjab.
Because of that, some see Shehbaz Sharif’s ascent to the prime minister post as being a bit of a gamble. At a time when Punjab politics will be the focus of fierce contest ahead of the 2018 national elections, taking the province’s political kingpin out of the day-to-day management of the campaign and public affairs there is not an automatic choice.
“Shehbaz Sharif has a proven record of carrying out mega-development projects in Punjab and delivering what the common man wants. Then why would you want to remove him from there?” said Nusrat Javed, a journalist and longtime observer of Punjab politics.
In the glare of the coming national political race, Shehbaz Sharif…