Amid parleys for selecting Premier and calls for elections, President Asif Ali Zardari has summoned the National Assembly on Friday evening to elect the next Prime Minister. A number of names are in circulation, but a clearer picture will emerge by Thursday afternoon when nominations will be filed for the post.
Though the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has accepted the Supreme Court verdict disqualifying Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani to ensure continuation of the democratic system, Mr. Zardari warned against any attempt to derail democracy.
In a hard-hitting statement on the eve of his late wife Benazir Bhutto’s birth anniversary, he said: “No back doors and side doors will be allowed to be reopened for sending elected Parliaments home…We will not be deterred by conspiracies or hurdles created in our way…” The statement referred to the “judicial murder” of PPP founding father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the “abuse of judicial processes to hound” Benazir Bhutto.
Officially authorised by his party and coalition partners to decide on the next Premier, Mr. Zardari has to reckon with all the pulls and pressures of such a decision with some among the allies playing hardball to eke out a better share for themselves in the new Cabinet. There were also indications of some in the opposition trying to lure allies with promise of support in case they field a candidate.
Soon after the late Tuesday night meeting of the PPP leadership with allies, television channels claimed that Textile Industry Minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin had been chosen to replace Mr. Gilani. However, a past-midnight statement from the Presidency on the meeting made no mention of any name being finalised.
Several names have been doing the rounds since Monday night as it became evident that Mr. Gilani’s days as Premier were numbered. Other names in circulation are Power Minister Ahmed Bukhari, Religious Affairs Minister Khurshid Shah, and National Heritage and Integration Minister Samina Burki.
Despite the speculation, there was also the possibility of a wild card entry as close watchers of Mr. Zardari maintain that he has pulled surprises in the past and that aspect cannot be ruled out. In any case, the next Premier is also expected to meet the same fate as Mr. Gilani as no PPP Prime Minister will agree to the Supreme Court directive to write to Swiss authorities asking for the reopening of graft cases against Mr. Zardari.
It was Mr. Gilani’s refusal to do so that put him in the dock and the issue is not settled with his ouster. In fact, the PPP leadership’s apprehension is that this is probably just the beginning as they expect the Supreme Court to pursue other cases involving some key party leaders with equal determination.