New Delhi: The ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is hunting for a replacement for former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani after the Supreme Court disqualified him from holding the Prime Minister's office on Tuesday. The PPP Parliamentary Party is meeting in Islamabad at 4.30 pm IST on Wednesday.
Among the number of names doing the rounds, Power Minister Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar and Textile Minister Makhdoom Shahbuddin are said to leading the race.
Earlier on Wednesday morning, it was reported that the PPP has nominated senior leader Makhdoom Shahabuddin for the post of premier following the disqualification of Gilani. The decision was made at a meeting of senior PPP leaders chaired early on Wednesday morning by President Asif Ali Zardari, Geo News channel quoted its sources as saying.
The meeting further decided to convene a session of the National Assembly or lower house of parliament on Thursday to formally elect the new leader of the House, the report said.
There was no official word on the development from the PPP or the presidency. The move came in the wake of two separate meetings of the PPP's central executive committee and the leaders of the ruling coalition led by the PPP.
A formal announcement about the nominee for the post of premier is expected after a meeting of the PPP's parliamentary party scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
Reports said former premier Gilani had expressed reservations over the candidature of Shahabuddin during the meeting of the PPP and its allies on Tuesday night.
Shahabuddin had on Tuesday emerged as a strong contender for the post of premier. He has held several portfolios in Gilani s cabinet since 2008. Besides, the top leadership of the PML-Q, a key ally of the PPP, were opposed to the candidature of former Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar due to political rivalries in Punjab, sources said.
During a revamp of Gilani's cabinet in February last year, Shahabuddin was tipped to be sworn in as the Foreign Minister.
However, the party changed its plans after Shah Mahmood Qureshi skipped the swearing-in ceremony on learning that he would not be reallocated the Foreign Ministry.
Like Gilani, Shahabuddin belongs to a spiritual family that is revered and is the custodian of the mausoleum of the Sufi saint Shah Rukn-e-Alam.
PPP insiders said that some party leaders had also suggested the names of former ministers Hina Rabbani Khar, Khursheed Shah and Samina Ghurki for the post of premier. However, they were not considered front-runners for the position.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on Tuesday disqualified Gilani in response to several petitions that had challenged National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza's decision not to disqualify the premier following his conviction of contempt.
The bench 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.
The Supreme Court contempt of court decision is in connection with Gilani's refusal to write to Swiss authorities to have graft cases against Zardari re-opened. All this after a protracted battle with the apex court.
The Supreme Court's decision to disqualify Gilani is with effect from April 26 and all decisions taken by Gilani and his cabinet from that date stand nullified.
This also lead to a possible constitutional crisis - with a question mark over whether the President alone can convene the Assembly to select a new Prime Minister.
Some important questions still remain on Pakistan government's future. How long will the new Prime Minister and the cabinet last, with elections due in February? Will the government reverse all executive decisions taken in the past two months and Will the new Prime Minister accept the court's directive to re-open corruption cases against Zardari?
With Additional Inputs from PTI