The man nominated by the party of the late Benazir Bhutto to be Pakistan's new premier is Sunday set to meet members of a coalition that has vowed to take on President Pervez Musharraf.
Former parliament speaker Yousuf Raza Gilani was named on Saturday by slain opposition leader Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) as its candidate for prime minister, more than a month after it won the most seats in elections.
The party has agreed to form a coalition government with the party of ex-PM Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted by Musharraf in a coup in 1999, and other smaller groups who trounced the US-backed president's allies in elections.
Party officials said top coalition members, including Gilani, were set to meet on Sunday ahead of a parliament session on Monday to elect the new prime minister, a vote which Gilani is almost certain to win.
Gilani, 58, a low-key but stalwart aide to Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, on Saturday called for unity among Pakistan's "democratic" parties.
"We have to take all democratic forces along. I will be giving a policy statement and spelling out my priorities on the floor of the house," Gilani told AFP after he was nominated.
"I am thankful to my party leadership for putting their trust in me," Gilani said, adding that he missed the party's "great leader" Bhutto, who was assassinated in a suicide attack at a political rally on December 27.
Gilani spent five years in jail under Musharraf's regime on corruption charges stemming from his time as speaker -- winning admiration from PPP colleagues who said the charges were politically motivated.
Zardari said in a statement announcing the nomination on Saturday that "Yousuf Raza Gilani is not afraid to lead and he knows the way."
Speculation remains however that Gilani would be a stop-gap premier until Zardari -- who is not an MP -- becomes eligible to stand for the post by contesting a by-election in May.
"This option stays open depending on the performance of the government, it is possible," Hasan Askari, a professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC, told AFP.
Gilani was speaker during Bhutto's second term in power from 1993 to 1996 and a minister during her first term from 1988 to 1990.
Meanwhile the former ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, which backed Musharraf in the last parliament, said it was going to choose a new candidate on Sunday to go up against Gilani in Monday's vote.
A nominee of Musharraf's allies on Saturday quit the race for the premiership in a dramatic about-face, saying he would give "unconditional support to the PPP nominee."
Musharraf is set to swear in the new premier on Tuesday.
Western governments are closely watching the political scene in Pakistan amid concerns that instability will hurt the fight against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants behind a wave of recent violence.
The coalition government appears set for a confrontation with Musharraf after vowing to reinstate judges whom the president sacked during a state of emergency in November.
If restored, the judges could overturn Musharraf's re-election as president in a parliamentary vote in October and effectively rule his grip on power illegal.
A New York Times report that Zardari and Sharif intend to start negotiations with Islamic militants in the hope of ending a spate of bombings has caused further jitters in the West.
Analyst Askari said Gilani's nomination would improve stability in the short-term because he was acceptable to the PPP and its coalition partners, but that he faced major problems at home and abroad.
"The new PM faces a difficult challenge of balancing the domestic demand for a dialogue with the militants with American pressure for a tougher approach," Askari said.
"The US government is somewhat perturbed by the new government's plan to negotiate with the militant groups." (AFP)
Pakistan PM candidate to meet anti-Musharraf coalition