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Fahim offers to stand aside for Zardari

PPP vice-chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim offers to stand aside for Asif Ali Zardari in the race for premiership.
PTI | By Rezaul H Laskar, Islamabad
UPDATED ON MAR 18, 2008 06:00 PM IST

As divisions remained over who would be Pakistan's next prime minister, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari's name was proposed by initial front-runner and senior leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim and the prolonged suspense is set to end by Thursday.

The PPP, which is set to head the incoming coalition government, however had no problems on Tuesday over Speakership with Zardari's close associate Fahmida Mirza poised to become the National Assembly's first-ever presiding officer.

Mirza, 51, a three-time lawmaker from a political family of Sindh province, was expected to win as the PPP and its allies - PML-N, Awami National Party and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam have a majority in the National Assembly.

Fahim, who has expressed frustration that his nomination has not been announced, offered to stand aside for Zardari amid mounting speculation that the widower of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto wants the top job himself. After meeting Zardari late on Monday night, Fahim said he had proposed that the PPP chairman should become prime minister.

Asked by reporters if he was still a candidate for premiership, Fahim said: "I told him (Zardari) that he should be the candidate for the post of prime minister, and we will all support you. "I have made the proposal on my part, it is up to him to take a decision," he said. There was no word from the party on Zardari's response to Fahim's proposal. Senior PPP leader Syed Khurshid Ahmad Shah said the party's nominee for premiership will be announced by Thursday. "The future prime minister will be announced by March 20. There are four to five candidates for the top slot and the final decision will be taken after consulting our coalition partners," he said.

Fahmida Mirza, a businesswoman set to become the new Speaker, told reporters "For me there would be no government versus opposition ... As speaker, the whole house would be equal in my eyes."

Faisal Karim Kundi, who defeated a pro-Taliban incumbent for his parliamentary seat in Pakistan's volatile northwest, was nominated by the party as deputy speaker and is also expected to win comfortably.

On the issue of premiership, Fahim was initially a front-runner but was sidelined by Zardari following reports that he had secretly met President Pervez Musharraf and members of the military establishment.

Shortly after Bhutto's Dec 27 assassination in a suicide attack, Zardari told reporters that Bhutto had wanted Fahim to be the party's candidate for prime minister. Fahim has in recent days expressed his unhappiness over Zardari's decision to delay naming as the prime minister.

Banners were put up near parliament on Monday as the national assembly met for its maiden session asking Fahim not to "betray" the party by insisting on premiership.

Zardari is currently ineligible because he is not a parliament member. However, he could name a stand-in and run in a by-election within months. Still, there is uncertainty about whether he holds a college degree--a legal requirement for candidates.

After the new Parliament met on Monday in the shadow of a possible confrontation with Musharraf, PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif told his party colleagues that "broken institutions are being handed to us and Musharraf is keeping powers for himself." "God willing, we will take those powers from him," Sharif said late on Monday night.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, had a rare full meeting of its 15 judges amid a possible showdown between the new parliament and Musharraf over his sacking of dozens of judges last year.

Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, who was appointed by Musharraf to replace the president's arch-foe Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, convened the extraordinary meeting. No agenda has been announced for the court's meeting, which comes one day after the new Parliament met.

Attorney General Malik Qayyum told reporters that thr judges would "discuss administrtive matters, but there is a possibility that they may discuss the current situation." He, however, did not elaborate. The PPP-led coalition has pledged to restore about 60 judges sacked by Musharraf under emergency rule in November -- including Chaudhry -- through a parliamentary resolution within the next 30 days. Firebrand lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, the head of the court's bar association who has led a campaign for the reinstatement of the sacked judges, has expressed fears the pro-Musharraf court could block the planned parliamentary move.

He said on Monday that the parliament could not be bound by such a court order and warned of fresh protests if the reinstatement of the judges were blocked by the pro-Musharraf judiciary. But Qayyum said any parliamentary resolution reinstating the deposed judges would have no legal weight. "Parliament is not the authority to appoint or sack judges. If it wants to reinstate the judges, it will have to amend the constitution with a two-thirds majority," he said.

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