ISLAMABAD, March 22: The Pakistan People’s Party on Saturday named Makhdoom Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani for election as the country’s next prime minister to head a landmark coalition of former political rivals, ending weeks of suspense on a day of high political drama that also saw some old friendships being punctured and a new one initiated.
Wiles and guiles of politics were in full play in Islamabad before a statement from PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari announced the choice he said he had made through consultations within the party and with coalition partners, dumping the other most prominent hopeful, Makhdoom Amin Fahim.
The nominee of the PPP, which emerged as the largest parliamentary group in the Feb 18 election, will be the coalition’s joint candidate whose election by the National Assembly for a five-year term, set for Monday, is a foregone conclusion because of the expected support by more than two-thirds majority in the 342-seat lower house.
Mr Fahim, a senior vice-chairman of the PPP, like Mr Gilani, and president of the party’s electoral arm of PPP Parliamentarians, immediately accepted the nomination despite strongly pressing his candidacy publicly in the past, and told the media by telephone from Karachi that he would arrive in Islamabad on Sunday “only, only and only” to vote for Mr Gilani on Monday.
The nomination was earlier due to have been announced by PPP boy chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari who, according to party officials, had come home during a studies break in Britain only for this purpose.
But in an apparent last-minute change of plans amid murmurs about the wisdom of involving the 19-year-old undergraduate in a controversy and to announce a choice he was not expected to make, the task was left to a statement from Mr Zardari that was read out to the media by party spokesman Farhatullah Babar.
However, the statement spoke of consultations having been held with Bilawal as with other coalition partners and unspecified party members and made no mention of Mr Fahim, whose candidacy had fed rumour mills for weeks after media reports that Mr Zardari and main ally PML-N had developed some reservations about the PPP’s most senior parliamentarian because of his past contacts with President Pervez Musharraf.