Pakistan's two main Opposition parties stepped up efforts on Friday to identify a consensus candidate for Prime Minister and hammer out a power-sharing formula after the former rivals agreed to form a coalition government.
Pakistan People's Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Nawaz Sharif on Thursday night announced that the two parties will work together for a "national consensus government".
The parties, however, did not say who would lead the new government though PPP vice-president Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who had unsuccessfully contested the October presidential election against President Pervez Musharraf, appeared to be the frontrunner. The newly elected PPP members will meet on Friday to discuss the agreement between Zardari and Sharif, a party spokesman said.
It will also discuss the question of who would be the next prime minister, he said. The two parties are likely to come up with an agreement ahead of the National Assembly session expected next month.
The PML-N, meanwhile, said its decision to form a coalition government in Pakistan with the PPP was a "happy augury" for the efforts to usher in complete democracy in the country.
"The PML-N, Pakistan People's Party and Awami National Party have agreed on forming the government at the centre and this is a happy augury for the things to come in our efforts to achieve complete democracy," PML-N joint secretary Siddique-ul-Farooq said.
The PML-N, which emerged as the second largest party in the National Assembly or lower house of parliament, was also well placed in the politically crucial Punjab
"We are the largest party in the province and we will work with the two other parties on forming government in Punjab," Farooq said. At the same time, the party will focus on reviving its organisation in the other provinces where it had become very weak, he said.
"The PML-N and the PPP have agreed to strengthen democracy and work for restoring the judges. We will move ahead from there," Farooq said.
Observers had expected the differences between the PML-N and PPP on the reinstatement of judges deposed during last year's emergency to come in the way of an understanding between them in forming a government. Sharif had insisted that he would not compromise on the reinstatement of the judges while Zardar had only committed the PPP to working for the independence and autonomy of the judiciary.
Following Thursday's meeting, Sharif had said "there is no disagreement on the restoration of the judiciary" and the modalities would be worked out in parliament.
Meanwhile, Aitzaz Ahsan, who led the lawyers' agitation against Musharraf last year, demanded that the judiciary be restored by March 8.
"If they don't give us back our judges, then we will march with the judges to Islamabad to hold a convention there," the lawyer, who was put under house arrest after the emergency was imposed in November, said in Lahore.