Zardari to take decision on new premier

By Devirupa Mitra, IANS

Islamabad : Five days after it held crucial general elections, Pakistan still does not know who its next prime minister will be. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the largest political party in the newly-elected National Assembly, Friday authorized its co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari to take a final decision.

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The newly elected PPP members to the National Assembly met Friday to discuss on the country’s next prime minister. The party’s Makhdoom Amin Faheem is the current front-runner.

But after the end of the meeting, the only announcement was that it was an “introductory gathering” and left the final decision for choosing the prime minister to Zardari.

“The decision on nomination for the premiership candidate has not been taken yet as the party leadership intends to discuss it with the provincial parliamentary parties,” said Shah Mahmood Qureshi, PPP Punjab president.

Meanwhile, Zardari continued to make calls to various leaders including Muttahida Majlis-e Amal leader Fazlur Rehman and Tehreek-i-Insaaf chief Imran Khan, in order to cobble together a “national consensus government”. He has also spoken to Muttahida Quami Movement leader Altaf Hussain, who is currently in exile in London.

The PPP, with the highest number of legislators at 87, and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 66 seats, agreed on a coalition government Thursday. However, their top leaders, Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, ruled themselves out for the premier’s post.

Meanwhile, Western diplomats continued their parleys with the main political parties, with Sharif meeting the British high commissioner and the French ambassador. On the other hand, Zardari had an hour-long discussion with a US congressional delegation.

On the sidelines of the political parleys, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and PPP supporter Aitzaz Ahsan told reporters in Lahore Friday that the next prime minister should be from Sindh, the home province of the Bhuttos.

Sitting next to him in the same press conference, former cricketer and Tehreek-i-Insaaf leader Imran Khan had suggested that Ahsan was a suitable candidate for the top job. But Ahsan, who is technically under house arrest, has denied that he is in the running.

The former ruling party, PML-Quaid, has won 40 seats in the National Assembly, coming a distant third. The Pasthun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP), which has routed the Islmasists in the North West Frontier Province, has 10 seats and has been invited to be part of the coalition government.

Most of the leaders are scheduled to fly back to the provincial capitals for the weekend, where they will continue talks on alliance formation at the centre and provinces.

ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan is also scheduled to meet the American envoy in Pakistan. The envoy had met both Zardari and Sharif soon after the results showed that the Pakistani people had thrown out the old order.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan, whose party had boycotted the elections, warned: “Political parties and (President Pervez) Musharraf cannot work together.” He urged political parties to respect the people’s mandate for releasing the deposed chief justice and seven judges as well as remove President Musharraf.

He also announced that the All Party Democratic Movement, which boycotted the elections, will support the lawyer’s plan for a long march to Islamabad on March 9, if the deposed judges are not restored by then.