A last minute drama on Thursday marked the selection of Pakistan's new prime minister as the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party choice Makhdoom Shahbuddin was issued a non-bailable warrant by an anti-drug court as he was filing his nomination, virtually ending his prospects.
Shahbuddin, a minister in the cabinet of Yousuf Raza Gilani who was disqualified by the supreme court two days ago, was at the National Assembly filing his papers when the court issued warrants for his arrest over alleged irregularities in the import of a controlled drug.
This unexpected turn of events brightened the prospects of Raja Parvez Ashraf, another senior PPP politician who was also filing his nomination, having being chosen by the party as a covering candidate.
There were reports on Thursday night that Shahbuddin was being withdrawn which means that Ashraf could succeed Gilani.
Another covering candidate Qamar Zaman Kaira, former Information Minister, was also named.
The election for the post of Prime Minister will be held on Friday at the National Assembly.
The latest development seems to have set the stage for a fresh round of stand-off between the government and an assertive judiciary and may further deepen the political crisis that has hit the country.
Acting on a request from the Anti-Narcotics Force, Judge Shafqatullah Khan in Rawalpindi issued arrest warrants for Shahabuddin and former premier Gilani's son Ali Musa Gilani. The judge directed officials to arrest and present them in his court within a week.
The supreme court is examining allegations about out-of-turn quotas for importing Ephedrine that were granted to two pharmaceutical companies by the health ministry, allegedly under the influence of Ali Musa.
After filing his nomination, Shahabuddin thanked the ruling PPP and its leaders and workers for backing his candidature but averted questions from the media about the arrest warrant.
Asked by a reporter if he would accept the arrest warrant, Shahabuddin only responded by quoting an Urdu couplet, "Yeh to chalti hai tujhe ooncha udane ke liye."
All three PPP candidates -- Shahabuddin, Ashraf and Kaira -- served as ministers in Gilani's cabinet.
Shahabuddin and Ashraf have been linked to graft cases that are currently being examined by the supreme court while there are no allegations against Kaira.
In a separate development, the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has fielded Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, a former Chief Minister of the North West Frontier Province, for the post of premier while the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam has nominated its chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
The supreme court disqualified Gilani on Tuesday in response to several petitions that had challenged the National Assembly Speaker's decision not to disqualify the premier following his conviction of contempt.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry further ruled that the post of premier had been vacant since April 26, when another seven-judge bench had convicted Gilani of contempt for refusing to reopen graft cases in Switzerland against Zardari.