Makhdoom Amin Fahim to be Pakistan’s next premier

February 23rd, 2008 - 5:50 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Benazir Bhutto
Islamabad, Feb 23 (DPA) The incoming ruling party of slain Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has chosen the country’s next prime minister, who is to be announced when the new parliament convenes early next month, party officials said Saturday. However, a senior party official said Makhdoom Amin Fahim, vice chairman and a founding member of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), was selected to be premier by the party’s top leadership during a closed-door meeting in Islamabad Friday.

“The party in principle decided to take a prime minister from Sindh province, and Makhdoom Amin Fahim, being a senior party member, was chosen,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told DPA.

Sindh is the political stronghold of Bhutto’s PPP, and 68-year-old Fahim, who hails from the province’s Hyderabad district, is one of the party’s most-respected members.

“Yousaf Raza Geelani, the former speaker of parliament and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the PPP provincial president in Punjab, were the strongest candidates from Punjab province,” the party official said. “But the party agreed to select the prime minister from Sindh province.”

PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar confirmed to DPA that the party had agreed upon a new premier, but said the name would not be announced until the Pakistan National Assembly convenes in early March. He declined to say why the party was delaying the announcement and said PPP were continuing meetings through the weekend.

Nonetheless, Fahim had been widely expected to become prime minister. A party stalwart, he is considered a moderate force and a consensus builder, though far more reserved than the charismatic Bhutto.

Fahim ran the PPP while Bhutto was in self-exile for eight years. Bhutto returned home in October to run for an unprecedented third term as prime minister, but was killed in a gun and suicide bombing attack at a campaign rally on Dec 27.

Last Monday, the PPP led a one-two sweep of parliamentary elections, trouncing the ruling party of embattled President Pervez Musharraf and dramatically altering the balance of power in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower and PPP co-chairman, has agreed to form a coalition government with fellow opposition leader Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which finished second in the polls.

Once parliament convenes, the parties are expected to begin chipping away at the constitutional powers Musharraf compiled after seizing power in a bloodless military coup in 1999.

First among them, the PPP said in a statement Friday, would be to eliminate Musharraf’s authority to dissolve parliament and dismiss the elected government.

“The participants expressed views on the prevailing situation in the country and vowed to work for the restoration of parliamentary supremacy by undoing undemocratic provisions under which elected parliaments have been dismissed,” a PPP statement said.

Currently, Pakistan’s constitution gives Musharraf the power to dissolve parliament, which some suspect he might do if the incoming government and lawmakers attempt to reinstate judges the president fired in November as they were about to overturn his controversial re-election the previous month.

Sharif demands dozens of sacked Supreme Court and High Court judges be reinstated so they can rule on the legality of Musharraf’s re-election and imposition of emergency rule, during which he jailed political opponents and suspended the constitution to ensure his survival.

If the new parliament does reinstate the judges, it could mark the beginning of a showdown with Musharraf, a key US ally in fighting resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda militants along Pakistan’s western border with Afghanistan.

The president’s political backer, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, finished a distant third in the elections, leaving Musharraf politically weakened and powerless to sway events in the new parliament.

Nonetheless, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in Washington Friday that while the formation of a new Pakistani government was an internal affair, the Bush administration would continue to deal with Musharraf.

“The president of Pakistan is Pervez Musharraf … and so, of course, we will deal with him,” she said. “We will continue to pursue American interests which are for a stable and democratic Pakistan.”

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