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Sharif’s party pushing Zardari to be Pakistan PM

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS

Islamabad : 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 executive 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 told IANS.

The source said the PML-N had promised him a “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 under graduate.

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

A PML-N leader said his party had offered him to “get this concession from the parliament in the first month of the session” so that he becomes eligible to contest a by-poll and enter the National Assembly, a must to become the prime minister.

In return, PML-N expects from PPP that 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, the second largest party in the country.

Soon after Bhutto’s death Dec 27, 2007, Zardari named veteran party leader Makhddom Amin Fahim as the prime ministerial candidate. Zardari later said that there were many hopefuls for the post.

Some PPP leaders fear that 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 Khawaja Asif, in a television interview, said Fahim had met Musharraf several times to strike a deal.

Fahim has denied this. He has served Asif a legal notice for defaming him and had questioned the PML-N’s motive in promoting Zardari.

Zardari has said he is ready to work with Musharraf and needs the help of PML-N in forming the government. Sharif seems to realise that he needs the PPP chief to buy time to strengthen his party to recapture power in a few years.