President Pervez Musharraf will be elected for a second term in office by the sitting parliament before it is dissolved ahead of general elections due later this year or early 2008, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said.
While Musharraf has made no secret of his plans to stand for a second term, the comment from Aziz was the clearest sign yet the president will take a route that opposition groups have labeled "unconstitutional".
"The election of the president is due in September-October this year ... and President Musharraf will be re-elected by the present assemblies with comfortable majority," state-run Associated Press of Pakistan quoted Aziz as saying late on Sunday.
The prime minister's remark comes at a time when the country is abuzz with speculation that Musharraf is hatching some form of power-sharing deal with former premier Benazir Bhutto, which would allow her to return home after nearly a decade living in self-exile to avoid a raft of corruption charges.
Under Pakistan's constitution, the National Assembly and Senate along with the four provincial assemblies elect the president, and Musharraf's allies enjoy a majority in the sitting parliament.
"The next parliament may elect him, the next parliament may not elect him," Shafqat Mehmood, a political commentator, said.
"By getting himself re-elected from the sitting parliament, it means he obviously wants to get a guarantee that he is here for the next five years, no matter who wins the next elections."
A spokesman for Bhutto reinforced her opposition to Musharraf having himself re-elected by the same assemblies that endorsed him as president in 2002.
"Doing this will be unconstitutional and illegal and will be resisted by the Pakistan Peoples Party," said Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's party.
Bhutto also wants Musharraf to honor a commitment to become a civilian leader this year by stepping down as army chief, something he is believed to be reluctant to do.
But with a possible deal in the making, lawmakers from Bhutto's party could simply abstain, rather than vote against Musharraf, if he asks the sitting assemblies to give him another five-year term, political analysts say.
Despite their mutual dislike, Bhutto and Musharraf need each other, according to analysts. They say that as long as Bhutto stays out of Pakistan her support base will ebb.
For his part, Musharraf would like backing from a party that shares his vision of "enlightened moderation", help turn the tide against religious conservatives, and dilute criticism of his democratic credentials.
The Islamist opposition has warned it might challenge the government through the Supreme Court, if Musharraf gets his term renewed by the current assemblies.
There is also the critical issue of whether General Musharraf will find a way to duck a commitment to give up his post as army chief, some 7 ½ years after coming to power in a military coup.
For these reasons, analysts speculate that Musharraf backed moves to sack the Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, as the independent-minded judge might have got in the way.
Chaudhry's suspension on March 9, pending the outcome of an inquiry into charges of misconduct, plunged the country into a judicial crisis and damaged Musharraf's image at a time when his US ally wants to see him strengthen democracy in Pakistan.
An inquiry into misconduct charges against Chaudhry was set to resume on Tuesday.