Gillani emerges frontrunner for PM slot

ISLAMABAD: With ominous signs that the next PPP prime minister would not be from Sindh, former Speaker Yousuf Raza Gillani has emerged as the main frontrunner, with Shah Mehmud Qureshi and Ahmed Mukhtar of Gujrat also in the run.

PPP sources, however, say Gillani, a senior PPP Vice Chairman who was kept in jail for many years on frivolous charges, is the choice of Asif Zardari. Interestingly, at an off-the-record briefing for Islamabad journalists on Friday night, Gillani was the only candidate present.

PPP sources say Asif Ali Zardari himself is very firm on not contesting the PM election and wants to stay as the ‘kingmaker” in the Sonia Gandhi model, keeping the government of national consensus together.

Makhdoom Amin Fahim appears to have run into some problems because of his reported meetings with some important people in Islamabad without the knowledge of Zardari. He is said to have informed the Co-chairman about the meetings afterwards.

About Zardari contesting the by-elections, PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said at this point of time Asif had not yet shown any such intention; rather, has been saying in his interviews that he would not be contesting the elections soon.

When Babar was told that a party source had told this correspondent that he intended to contest the by-elections, he said, “I can’t say.” Though many Pakistan People’s Party leaders do not believe that there would be any other choice for the office of the prime minister but Makhdoom Amin Fahim, some party insiders told this correspondent that no matter who among the top runners was picked up for the top government slot, it would remain an interim arrangement.

Zardari, they said, would contest the by-election for the National Assembly from Larkana NA-207, the constituency where slain Benazir Bhutto was contesting for the February 18 polls at the time of her assassination. However, because of her murder on December 27, the election in that constituency was postponed.

Although, Amin Fahim was in the run until recently, Yousuf Raza Gillani and Shah Mehmud Qureshi are considered as the frontrunners. On the third day of her assassination when the party’s central executive committee nominated Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as the party’s chairman, Zardari had announced that Amin Fahim would be the party’s candidate for the prime ministership whereas he himself would like to run the party affairs while sitting outside the government.

He had also stated that Benazir wanted him to stay out of politics and that was the very reason that he did not participate in the elections. Later, not only a foreign newspaper quoted him as saying that he was the most suitable person in the party to become the party’s candidate for the prime minister but his close confidant Babar Awan also publicly named him as the candidate of the party for the office of the country’s chief executive.

“There is no one single personality [in the party], apart from me who anybody even knows. No one else has a consensus. The fact of the matter is that there’s nobody in the party with my seniority who’s been to prison for 11 years,” Zardari said in his interview to the American weekly, Newsweek.

Zardari later said about his remarks that he was misquoted. Regarding Awan’s statement, the PPP came up with the explanation that it was Awan’s personal view and not that of the party. Awan’s closeness to Zardari is, however, a conspicuous fact.

Though generally the party leaders say the PPP central executive committee would decide as to who would become the prime minister, sources close to Zardari said he had taken a decision to the effect.

Sherry Rehman, the party’s information secretary, said in Geo’s Capital Talk on Friday that the PPP had not yet decided as to who would be its candidate for the prime ministership. She said Amin Fahim had not been named as the party’s candidate, and added that the prime minister’s candidate could be picked up from the Punjab.

She also referred to some reports quoting Amin Fahim as saying that he was the candidate for the lucrative post. She is considered Zardari’s close aide and is reportedly aspiring for the foreign ministry.

Some old hands in the party, however, are of the view that if the CEC is to really decide the PPP’s nominee for the premiership, Amin Fahim would be the only consensus candidate. These leaders apprehend that the party would possibly split if Zardari himself became the prime minister but denied the slot to Amin Fahim.

Ahmad Mukhtar, whose name was also discussed a few days back amongst the top runners, on Friday said the party would decide as to who would become the prime minister. He confirmed that his name was being discussed though neither he nor any of his party colleagues had applied for the slot.