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PPP decision on prime minister nominee likely today

Nirupama Subramanian

Four seasoned leaders of the party have emerged front-runners for the post



PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan People’s Party is likely to take an important step towards government formation on Thursday by nominating a candidate for prime minister from among a slew of aspirants.

PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari will preside over a meeting of the party’s newly elected parliamentarians where the candidate may be announced.

Cases dropped

Mr. Zardari received a political boost on Wednesday when an anti-corruption court dropped five corruption cases against him and also ordered the unfreezing of his financial assets.

Four seasoned leaders of the PPP have emerged in recent days as front-runners for the post of prime minister. Makhdoom Amin Fahim was at one time considered the only candidate, with the PPP wanting to name a prime minister from its Sindh stronghold.

But now three other leaders from Punjab are also in the running, with the party leadership appearing to think that it needs to strengthen its base in Pakistan’s politically most important province. Yousuf Raza Geelani and Shah Makhdoom Qureishi are from southern Punjab, where the PPP is stronger than in the rest of the province.

Strong contender

Ahmed Mukhtar, a party leader from central Punjab now famous for defeating PML(Q) leader Chaduhary Shujat Husain in the February 18 election, has emerged as another strong contender. He was Commerce Minister in the 1993 Benazir government. An industrialist who owns Pakistan’s biggest shoe manufacturing company, he is close to Mr. Zardari, having spent three years in jail with him on corruption charges.

Large following

Political speculation also has it that the candidate chosen now would be a stop-gap arrangement, until Mr. Zardari steps in himself. At that stage, he may find it easier within the PPP to ease out a Punjabi than Mr. Fahim, who has a large following in Sindh, the party’s main base.

As it prepares to name the prime minister, the PPP is also in discussions with the Pakistan Muslim League (N) for government formation. The process is taking longer than anticipated with the PML(N) not wanting a share of the power but willing to extend outside support, while the PPP is insistent that it wants all its partners to “share responsibility.”

Khwaja Asif, a PML(N) leader, has said the discussions could go on for another eight to 10 days.

“Grand opposition”

Meanwhile, the routed PML(Q) appears to be stitching its own “grand opposition” coalition.

The PML(Q) and its allies in the last government came together in the capital on Tuesday in a show of strength in response to the one by the PPP, the PML(Q) and the Awami National Party last week.

Significantly, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement also participated in PML(Q)-organised event, though it was expected to join a PPP-led coalition.

Although the PML(Q) has declared that it was prepared to take up its role as a responsible opposition, a flurry recent meetings between party’s top leaders and the retired General Musharraf has led to speculation that a “conspiracy” was being hatched to prevent the PPP and the PML(N) from forming the government.

A media report that Mr. Fahim met a PML(Q) leader Hamid Nasir Chattha has added to the confusion and given to rise to speculation that the PPP was keeping a door open to a possible coalition with the so-called “King’s party.”

The PPP is also talking to the Jamaat-e-Ulema Islami.

But the first positive sign on government formation in the provinces came from the North West Frontier Province, where the ANP, the single largest party in the province, and the PPP finalised a power-sharing deal on Wednesday.

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