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Who will be Pak's new prime minister?

With the National Assembly set to meet tomorrow, it is still not clear who will be the prime minister in the new coalition, to be led by PPP.
IANS | By Muhammad Najeeb, Islamabad
UPDATED ON MAR 16, 2008 06:31 PM IST

As the National Assembly meets on Monday for the inaugural session, it is yet not clear who will be the prime minister in the new coalition set up to be led by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

The other coalition partners, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Awami National Party (ANP), have announced to accept and support PPP candidate for the top executive slot.

Now the ball is in the PPP court that has not been able to nominate a consensus candidate. PPP chief Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated former prime minister, is reluctant to endorse the senior party leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim's candidature, kicking up a swirling storm of speculation.

He is keeping the cards too close to his chest and would like to announce the party decision only at the eleventh hour.

There are speculations that Zardari himself is interested in the top position but cannot present himself, as he is not member of the National Assembly, a prerequisite to become a prime minister.

Moreover he also does not qualify to contest the polls because of being an undergraduate. The amended laws say that only graduates can contest the polls for the national and provincial parliaments.

Fahim, on the other hand, has already announced his candidature and would hold on to this position unless his party boss publicly offers himself for the office of prime minister.

The tussle between Zardari and Fahim deepened after PML-N leader Khwaja Asif said publicly that though it would be the PPP's prerogative to nominate its candidate his party has certain reservations about Fahim's candidature.

On second thoughts, however, the PML-N has softened its position and is now ready to support anyone who is nominated by the PPP for prime ministership.

Fahim is also meeting PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif to discuss the issue.

"This meeting is being held with Zardari's consent," a senior PPP leader told IANS.

In the meeting Sharif probably is going to convince Fahim to become speaker of the National Assembly and withdraw himself from the PM's candidature.

After the death of Benazir Bhutto, Fahim was the obvious choice as the PPP candidate for the office of prime minister, and was so nominated in the very first post-Benazir caucus of the party high command by the graveside of their assassinated leader.

Then it had full blessings of Zardari, but within a few days the anti-Fahim lobby in the party became active. Senator Babar Awan proposed Zardari as the party candidate, to be followed by some more that raised hands against Fahim's candidature, mainly reasoning that the party candidate should be from Punjab.

Whatever the dictates of political expediency, Fahim's supporters consider him to be standing on a moral high ground. Even during Bhutto's life for all practical purposes, he stood in her stead. He was the party's leader in the parliament and commanded complete trust of his party members in the National Assembly.

In turn, he consulted his party leader, who was in exile, before taking any decision, and led the PPP, which by then was renamed PPP-Parliamentarian with Fahim as its president, into the parliamentary elections.

"Legally I am the leader of the party that scored the highest numbers of seats in the National Assembly and president should invite me to form the government," Fahim had told reporters.

The situation has been complicated after Asif's accusation that he is "wired" and if elected as prime minister he would be a "proxy" of President Pervez Musharraf, with whom PML-N has refused to work.

Fahim's every meeting with the President was in pursuance of the dialogue that Benazir Bhutto was conducting with Musharraf's aides in London and Dubai.

Should Zardari finally decide to take up the country's top executive post, he would need somebody to keep the seat warm for him till he is elected. That would necessitate his election, which is not to be greatly problematic but certainly his candidature would become an issue.

He is said to be a diploma holder from Britain. If the Election Commission of Pakistan treats that diploma equal to a degree, the matter would end there but such diplomas have been refused for many candidates.

However, if not, the party may have to remove this constitutional bar through an act of parliament, some thing which may not be so easy because since the adoption of constitutional amendments the degree related condition has become part of the law which cannot be altered, repealed or amended without previous sanction of the president.

"Fahim's humiliation will also put the unity of the PPP, particularly in Sindh, under great strain. Fahim has a following there and his steadfastness and loyalty to the Bhuttos is part of the folklore," says a senior PPP leader.

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