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Sharif wants Zardari as PM

Former PM Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N is pushing PPP chief Asif Ali Zardari to head the yet-to-be-formed coalition government.

world Updated: Mar 13, 2008 23:31 IST

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) is pushing Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chief Asif Ali Zardari to head the yet-to-be-formed coalition government, say political leaders.

Leaders from both the parties said in background interviews the PML-N leadership was convincing Zardari, widower of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to take up the top post.

“There is no doubt that Zardari himself is interested and some of his party members are also convincing him to head of the government, but Sharif’s people are the major force behind this move,” a PPP leader said. The source said the PML-N had promised him “smooth sailing” in his election to parliament. Zardari did not fight the parliamentary elections in which the PPP emerged the single largest group in the National Assembly. But there is a problem. Under laws enacted in 2002, only graduates can contest elections and Zardari is an undergraduate.

However, Zardari’s colleagues claim he has a diploma from a British university which is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. But the Election Commission has previously rejected such diplomas.

A PML-N leader said his party has offered to get Zardari “this concession from the parliament in the first month of the session” so that he becomes eligible to contest the by-poll.

In return, PML-N expects the new parliament will scrap the law barring Nawaz Sharif to become Prime Minister for a third term.

Under the law, no one can hold the top executive slot for a third term. The law was passed after President Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999, ousting Sharif, to bar Sharif and Bhutto from becoming Prime Ministers. Both had served two terms.

“We are not in a hurry, we know this is not our chance. We want the PPP to complete the five-year term and we are confident of sweeping the next polls,” said another leader of the PML-N.

Soon after Bhutto’s death on December 27, Zardari named veteran party leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim as the prime ministerial candidate. Zardari later said there were many hopefuls for the post.

Some PPP leaders fear the otherwise well-knit party may split in case Zardari becomes Prime Minister. Fahim has already been saying in public that he is the most suitable candidate for the post.

PML-N leader Khwaja Asif, in a TV interview, said Fahim had met Musharraf several times to strike a deal. Fahim has denied this and served Asif a legal notice for defaming him and has questioned the PML-N’s motive in promoting Zardari.