Shahab to fill vacant PM slot

Makhdoom Shahabuddin

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD – Though, it was not made public officially till late on Wednesday night, but highly-placed sources privy to the closed door meetings held at the Presidency have told Media that the coalition partners have finalised the name of Makhdoom Shahabuddin as the country’s new prime minister.

“The PPP co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari, has asked Makhdoom Shahabuddin to file nomination papers in the National Assembly Secretariat on Thursday (today), while making Raja Pervaiz Ashraf as his covering candidate,” said the sources, adding that the allies had no objection over the candidature of the Makhdoom, a PPP MNA from Rahim Yar Khan. “Though, the names of Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar and Syed Khursheed Shah are also circulating in the circles concerned, but the name of Shahabuddin has been short-listed as new prime minister,” said the sources privy to the development.

Meanwhile, in the absence of any official word regarding the nomination of new prime minister, the electronic media remained busy in the guessing game the entire day about the final name. No one from the PPP and its allied parties was ready to share the information with the media. Stories about Makhdoom’s alleged involvement in the ephedrine case also kept circulating, suggesting thereby that he may not be the candidate for the premiership. Some reports even went to the extent of saying that he may be arrested any time by the ANF to include him into the investigation currently underway regarding the case also involving ex-PM’s son Musa Gilani.

It may be recalled here that ANF had last summoned Shahabuddin in the preceding month for interrogation. He had then told the investigators that though he had sanctioned the drug quota, but was unaware of the purpose and persons behind the move. Presently a member of the National Assembly, Makhdoom has earlier held the portfolio of federal minister for finance in Benazir Bhutto’s cabinet. He also served as federal minister for textile and health in the Gilani cabinet.

Meanwhile, sources in the PPP, who were aware of both covert and overt deliberations on the appointment of the new chief executive, said all the coalition partners had agreed in principle that the new prime minister should also be from the PPP and given the powers to Zardari to bring the candidate of his choice. However, one of the coalition partners had raised objection on the candidature of one of the candidate and their concern was accommodated.

By and large, the coalition partners were not concerned with the new prime minister rather their focus was on the fulfilment of the promises and commitments made with them by their senior coalition partner. And if past practice is any guide, they (coalition partners) would continue to look toward the Presidency for furtherance of their alliance and fulfilment of their promises instead of opting to the Prime Minister’s House.

In the series of the meetings held at the Presidency since the handing down of disqualification verdict against Gilani, it was the consensus view that future chief executive would be taken from south Punjab and definitely the consent and blessing of disqualified Gilani would have strong weightage. Some sources in the PPP were of the view that Gilani had shown some reservations over the name of Makhdoom Shahabuddin.

The name of Hina Rabbani Khar was also tipped as one of the potential candidate but she could not be considered for the slot on technical grounds, as she is too young to become Prime Minister because the minimum age limit for the slot is 45 years.  The sources said as one of the key coalition partners had opposed the candidature of Ahmed Mukhtar for the slot, so it also went into the advantage of Shahabuddin.

But some other sources had suggested that so far, President Zardari was reading the minds of senior party leaders and he would take the final decision even after the filing of the nomination papers for the slot when three to four party candidates would file their candidature and the final name would be announced at the eleventh hour. Some senior party leaders did not rule out the possibility of some dark horse coming from behind and crossing all the favourites.

In the meantime, Zardari continued his consultative process and contacted PML-F chief Pir Pagara, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who however, declined the offer to re-join the coalition government. Similarly, he had telephonic contact with MQM chief Altaf Hussain to have his input on the overall political situation in the country with specific reference to the current matter of appointment of new leader of the house. In another development the PML-Q central leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi would return back from London after cutting short his visit keeping in view the crisis-like situation back home due to disqualification of Gilani.

Earlier in the evening at the parliamentary party meeting, co-chaired by President Zardari and former premier Gilani wherein the party MPs were all praise for Gilani for upholding the supremacy of the Constitution and sacrificed his political career on principles and party interests. “We accepted the judiciary’s ruling for continuity of democratic process in the country and we don’t want confrontation between institutions,” Zardari SAID and added that the decision to nominate new leader of the house in the National Assembly would be taken in larger national interest and in consultation with the coalition partners.

Reposing its full confidence in President Zardari, the parliamentary party authorised him to nominate the next prime minister, sources said. “Your decision will be acceptable to us with a heart and soul,” the participants of the meeting said, as the parliamentary party did not put forth any names for the prime minister’s slot. President Zardari made it clear that general elections would be held as per schedule on completion of the mandated term of the incumbent government.

 On the occasion, the parliamentary party paid rich tributes to Gilani for his services and loyalty to the party, while Zardari said Gilani followed the Constitution in making all his decisions. Agencies add: The president said that the PPP had temporarily accepted the court’s judgment, despite its reservations on the ruling, for the sake of democracy. Moreover, he said that the next general elections would be held in eight months time. Zardari maintained that his party will not allow anyone to weaken the parliament.-Nation