The field of contenders for the job of Pakistan's finance minister appears to have narrowed to two candidates, a fund manager and a government minister, officials and a newspaper said on Wednesday.
Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, a veteran banker who negotiated an International Monetary Fund loan for Pakistan in 2008, said on Tuesday he was stepping down to focus on private business interests.
Financial markets and aid donors will be looking for someone who can sustain reforms ahead of a tough 2010/11 budget that will have to meet terms Tarin has agreed with the IMF.
Pakistan daily News reported that the two front-runners for the job appear to be a technocrat, Nasim Beg, and a lawyer-turned-politician and member of President Asif Ali Zardari's ruling party, Makhdoom Shahabuddin.
Investors would prefer Beg rather than a politician become finance minister, analysts said.
"The appointment of a technocrat would be viewed more positively by the market as he would be more likely to carry forward politically difficult reforms needed to sustain economic stability," said Asif Qureshi, director at Invisor Securities.
Beg, a chartered accountant, is the chief executive of Arif Habib Ltd, one of the country's top asset management companies.
He also served as the deputy chief executive of the state-run National Investment Trust, which manages Pakistan's largest and oldest mutual fund, and was briefly its chief executive.
Shahabuddin was elected to the National Assembly in 1994 and served as minister of state for finance. In 2008, he again won a National Assembly seat in an election that restored civilian rule and was appointed minister for planning and development. He later took over the health portfolio.
As well as Beg and Shahabuddin, officials have mentioned two other possible contenders: Ishrat Husain, a former central bank governor and Hafiz Pasha, a prominent economist and a member of the government's economic advisory council.
However, people close to Husain and Pasha have said they were both reluctant because they wanted to stay out of politics.
"The problem with people like Hafeez Pasha is that they don't want to get dragged into politics, and that is a worry for the government as they are finding it difficult to get a good finance minister," said a government official.
Stocks fell 0.7 percent by 0857 GMT after a loss of 1.3 percent on Tuesday, with Tarin's resignation a factor behind the selling, dealers said.
"Investors are likely to be cautious until the replacement is announced," said Asad Iqbal of Ismail Iqbal Securities Ltd.
The rupee was trading at 85.07/12 to the dollar. Dealers said Tarin's resignation was unlikely to affect the currency.