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05 December 2023

Bhutto party to unveil Pakistan PM candidate

By Agencies

Slain Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto's party was due on Saturday to announce the name of its candidate for prime minister, with every indication he may be elected uncontested.


Bhutto's 19-year-old son and successor as chairman of her Pakistan People's Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, will announce the candidate, PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.


"The name of the candidate has been finalised and the announcement will be made around 8:00pm (1500 GMT)," Babar told AFP.


The new parliament is to meet on Monday to elect the prime minister, who is to be sworn in by President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday, presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi said.


And in a dramatic development, Musharraf's political ally Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) said it has decided to withdraw its candidate as a "gesture of goodwill," indicating that the new premier could be elected unopposed.


"We have decided to extend unconditional support to the PPP nominee," Farooq Sattar of the Karachi-based MQM, who was nominated last week as the joint candidate of Musharraf's loyalists in the parliament, told AFP by telephone.


The decision to withdraw was taken after PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari held talks with MQM leader Altaf Hussain, who lives in exile in London, Sattar said.


"It is not for greed or lust for power, it is in the larger interest of the country, for the stability of the country and for political harmony," Sattar said.


PPP spokesman Babar hailed the MQM support as "a positive development."


"Since Farooq Sattar was the lone contestant from Musharraf's allies, there is a possibility that our candidate may be elected uncontested," he said without revealing the party's choice.


The PPP emerged as the largest party from general elections on February 18 but has struggled to settle on a candidate amid a power vacuum left by the charismatic Bhutto's assassination in December.


Zardari has held a series of meetings with legislators and coalition partners on the choice of prime minister but no clear frontrunner has emerged.


Bhutto was the first choice for the party but her assassination in a gun and suicide attack at an election rally on December 27 left the PPP in limbo.


The main contenders were former parliament speaker Yousuf Raza Gilani, ex-trade minister Ahmed Mukhtar, party president Makhdoom Amin Fahim and Punjab province party chief Shah Mahmood Qureshi.


Zardari himself is ineligible because he is not an MP, but insiders say he may run in a by-election in May to join parliament and possibly seek the premiership. (AFP)