Nepotism and cronyism are entrenched in Pakistani politics, with family connections sometimes boosting elite daughters into power despite social conservatism shutting most women out.

Benazir Bhutto became Pakistan’s first female leader in 1988 but the opportunity was credited to her lineage in the Bhutto dynasty which has historically rivalled the Sharifs, rather than social progress.

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.

Female politicians also face sexist criticism in patriarchal Pakistan, and Maryam has in the past been targeted over her appearance and taunted with suggestive remarks.

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 after securing the backing of the powerful military establishment.

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.


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