Pakistan Peoples Party names candidate for Prime Minister

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has nominated Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, former Speaker of the National Assembly, as their candidate for Pakistan's next Prime Minister.

His nomination was announced by party spokesman Farhatullah Babar at a news conference in Islamabad. "Yousaf Raza Gilani is not afraid to lead and he knows the way," he said, reading a statement from Asif Ali Zardari, widower of late PPP leader Benazir Bhutto and party co-chairman.

"I have great pleasure in calling upon Yousuf Raza Gilani in the name of martyr Benazir Bhutto to accept the heavy responsibility to lead the coalition government and the nation," Babar said. The announcement was expected to be made by Bhutto's son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, but party officials said he wasn't feeling well.

The parliament will vote for the Prime Minister on Monday. Gillani is widely expected to win the vote because of the majority coalition formed by the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League (N), the latter of which is led by former PM Nawaz Sharif. The new Prime Minister will be sworn in by President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday.

If Gillani becomes Prime Minister, analysts say he might soon be replaced by Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the PPP and Bhutto's widower. He is currently ineligible for the position of PM, as he is not currently a member of Parliament, but he could win a seat in a matter of months by contesting a by-election. However, the party spokesman's statement offered no indication that Gillani would serve as a temporary Prime Minister.

PPP vice chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim was long presumed to be the front-runner for the party's nomination, but after Gillani's name was announced, he said, "I have the best wishes for him." Some party members had reportedly viewed Fahim as being too close to Pervez Musharraf.

Meanwhile, the Musharraf's allies have still not picked their candidate for Prime Minister. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement decided to withdraw their candidate Farooq Sattar as "gesture of goodwill" towards the PPP. "We have decided to extend unconditional support to the PPP nominee," said Sattar.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), says the race will not be uncontested, and that his party will nominate Sattar's replacement on Sunday. "We have decided to contest the election for prime minister and not to withdraw from the political process," Hussain told reporters.