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28 February 2024

Pakistan’s winning party considers candidates to lead new government

By Agencies

A veteran politician with a reputation as a consensus builder emerged as the favorite to become Pakistan’s next prime minister on Saturday under an agreement by the two biggest opposition parties to form a new coalition government.

In a sign of the challenges they face after dealing a crushing blow to President Pervez Musharraf’s ruling party in parliamentary polls, fresh violence flared in the volatile northwest, where al-Qaida- and Taliban-linked militants operate.


A roadside bomb killed 12 people on Friday when it ripped through a truck carrying wedding guests, and clashes between security forces and Islamic militants left two others dead.


Leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party – once headed by assassinated ex-premier Benazir Bhutto – were holding wide-ranging talks through the weekend on ways to end a yearlong political crisis that saw the imposition of emergency rule, the purging of the judiciary and the deaths of hundreds in bombings blamed on Islamic militants.


They appeared eager to clip some of Musharraf’s sweeping powers, including the right of the increasingly unpopular president to dismiss parliament, according to a statement released by the party.


The party’s choice to head the next government after the new parliament convenes, probably next month, was also high on the agenda.


A final decision was not expected until Monday, but party officials and political analysts said the front-runner was veteran politician Makhdoom Amin Fahim, 68, a longtime Bhutto loyalist from Sindh province who turned down an offer of the premiership by Musharraf in 2002.


Other possible nominees include Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a top People’s Party figure from Punjab province, and former National Assembly speaker Yousuf Raza Gilani, party officials and analysts said.


Shafqat Mahmood, a prominent political commentator and former People’s Party spokesman, said Fahim was the favorite in part because the party wanted a prime minister from Sindh province, the Bhutto family stronghold. Both Qureshi and Gilani are from Punjab, the biggest and richest of Pakistan’s four provinces.


Fahim “is a consensus builder,” Mahmood said. “He would be good in a coalition and in papering over differences.”


Fahim, a mild-mannered figure short on charisma, served as the go-between for Musharraf and Bhutto during her eight years in exile. Fahim turned down the prime minister’s post five years ago because Musharraf wanted him to cut his ties to the Bhutto family.


Bhutto’s party won the right to pick the new prime minister by finishing first in this week’s balloting, claiming at least 87 of the 268 contested seats. The Pakistan Muslim League-N of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif trailed in second place with 67 seats, while the pro-Musharraf party took only 40 seats.


Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and Sharif agreed on Thursday to form a new government. Together, the two parties have 154 seats – sufficient to govern but not enough to impeach Musharraf.


That means the new government must share power with Musharraf, setting the stage for political maneuvering and infighting between the president and a government leadership made up of some of his bitterest rivals.


Sharif and other opposition figures have repeatedly called for Musharraf to step down after voters repudiated his party in the Monday ballot. But Musharraf has insisted he will serve out the five-year term he won last October. (AP)