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Pak: PPP delays annoucing its PM candidate
Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad | March 06, 2008 13:44 IST
Last Updated: March 06, 2008 20:09 IST
Suspense over Pakistan's next prime minister continued with the Pakistan People's Party, which will head a planned coalition government, on Thursday delaying a decision on its nominee amid differences over the frontrunner Makhdoom Amin Fahim.
A crucial meeting of the newly elected MPs of the PPP could not zero in on the prime ministerial candidate even a fortnight after late Benazir Bhutto's [Images] party and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N decided to join hands to form a coalition.
PPP leaders said a decision may not be announced until Parliament convenes, which is expected later this month.
Pakistan's caretaker Law Minister Afzal Haider had last week said the process of government formation will be completed by March 15.
Emerging from the nearly four-hour meeting presided by PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, senior party leaders said a decision on the prime ministerial candidate would take a few more days.
It was widely expected that the PPP will finalise its prime ministerial candidate on Thursday, nearly three weeks after President Pervez Musharraf's [Images] allies were routed in the Parliamentary elections.
Fahim, a staunch Bhutto loyalist, was originally the lone frontrunner, but later Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Yusuf Raza Gillani emerged as strong contenders.
Mukhtar is an industrialist who is close to Zardari and who vanquished the chief of the pro-Musharraf party.
Party ources said differences within the PPP on whether the prime minister should be chosen from Sindh or Punjab had held up a decision.
Fahim hails from Sindh while the other contenders are from the politically crucial province of Punjab.
A statement issued by the PPP quoted Zardari as saying that the "nomination for the office of prime minister would be finalised by the time the (National) Assembly session was called".
The National Assembly is expected to be convened next week.
Zardari said he would hold separate meetings with parliamentarians from each division from Friday "to arrive at a decision that had the broadest support".
Mukhtar told reporters: "The people who have to take this decision need more time to finalise the candidate. A lot of things have to be taken into consideration.
Due to that, Zardari has decided to hold meetings with members of Parliament from different divisions and take their viewpoints before he makes any decision."
Mukhtar added: "I don't think there is uncertainty because of the (prime minister) not being nominated as yet. We still have time."
Fahim told reporters, "the consultation process will continue." Shrugging of questions about the cause of the delay, Fahim said "This is democracy."
"The legacy of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto must be fulfilled, and the party and democracy must be strengthened. Individuals come and go, but parties have to live on," said Shah Mahmood Qureshi, one of the other contenders.
"Some in the PPP strongly feel that we need to strengthen our standing in Punjab and a prime minister from the region is beneficial," a party MP from Punjab was quoted as saying.
However, some partymen said it would be a tough decision to pass over Fahim, a poetry-loving 68-year-old who effectively led the party when Bhutto was in exile from 1999 to 2007.
"Despite reservations by the party leader, Amin Fahim remains the main candidate for the PM slot among the party ideologues who consider him to be the one carrying Shaheed (martyr) Benazir Bhutto's legacy," a Sindhi MP said.
"Ordinarily, by virtue of his party office, he would have been the candidate for the office of prime minister," Zardari said.
However, he had decided "not to be a candidate for this office and instead wished to devote time and energy to strengthen the party rather than seeking government office".
The PPP statement said Zardari had told the meeting that "major issues had been thrashed (out) with the coalition partners and some small matters remained to be sorted out, which too would be resolved soon".
Senior PPP leader Nabeel Gabol claimed the decision on nominating a prime ministerial candidate was delayed as Musharraf had not yet convened a session of the National Assembly to elect its new leader.
"If the president summons the meeting soon, the decision on the prime minister will be taken soon," he said.
"There could be more delay in nominating the prime minister if the president delays summoning the National Assembly session," he added.
Some leaders also said that Thursday's meeting focussed on how the PPP intended to run the new government.
The PPP statement quoted Zardari as saying that the new government would focus on principles like "transparency, exposition of truth with a view to achieving reconciliation and provincial autonomy".
Zardari said the issue of reinstating judges who were deposed during last year's emergency and the war on terror "needed to be handled with prudence, imagination and courage".
An important meeting of the PPP, PML-N and ANP's top leadership to be held on Friday will discuss modalities for forming the government and other key issues, including the PML-N's demand for the reinstatement of deposed judges.