ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistan’s new government will likely name its choice for prime minister in early March, party officials said Saturday, as uncertainty surrounded the future of key US ally President Pervez Musharraf.
The two biggest parties to emerge after Monday’s parliamentary election have been weighing their choice for premier after agreeing to form a coalition.
Officials from both parties said the frontrunner to be prime minister was Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the widely respected vice president of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
“There is an agreement that Fahim should be the parliamentary leader and candidate for PM but the announcement is unlikely to be made public before the parliament is convened into session, most probably in the first week of March,” a senior PPP official, who did not want to be named, told AFP.
If the coalition can woo some smaller parties and muster a two-thirds majority, they could move to impeach Musharraf. Analysts say the retired general is in the most precarious position since he seized power in a 1999 coup.
Local media reported Saturday that Musharraf and the United States were pushing the PPP and their partner, the Pakistan Muslim League-N led by former premier Nawaz Sharif, to work with Musharraf rather than try to remove him.
PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP that Bhutto’s widower and party leader Asif Ali Zardari had met with the US envoy in Islamabad, but he denied there was any pressure coming from the West.
“Co-chairman Zardari has met the US envoy twice and I do not think there is any pressure on us,” he told AFP. “They want to know what is going to be the shape of things.”
A spokesman for Sharif’s party told AFP that pressure from “certain quarters” — which he did not name — would not be helpful to democracy.
“There are a lot of conspiracies and a lot of pressure but such tactics are against Pakistan’s interest and against the nation’s verdict which it gave on February 18,” Siddiqul Farooq said.
Sharif and Zardari announced their parties would join forces after trouncing Musharraf’s allies in the ballot. The two camps, once bitter rivals, have agreed that the PPP would designate the next prime minister.
The senior PPP official said that although Fahim was most likely to be named, there was no rush to make a formal announcement since internal discussions were ongoing.
Musharraf was seen in Washington as a bulwark against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but northwestern Pakistan has seen the worst of a wave of violence blamed on Al-Qaeda and Taliban rebels that has swept the country in recent months, worrying the president’s Western allies.
Popular support for hardliners has fallen, however, with a secular ethnic Pashtun group deposing fundamentalists in the troubled North West Frontier Province in the elections.
A lull in the violence ended Friday when a roadside bomb struck cars carrying a wedding party in the northwestern Swat Valley, killing 14 people, police said.
Late Friday, three men were killed and two injured in a shooting in the southern port city of Karachi, police said.
A PPP spokesman said the victims were party supporters. One of those killed was a polling agent.
Questions also remain over whether the coalition will seek to restore Pakistan’s deposed chief justice, a fierce opponent of Musharraf.
Sharif said on Thursday that they had overcome differences over his demands for the immediate restoration of chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who was sacked by Musharraf in November, and would work on it in parliament.
If Chaudhry, who remains under house arrest, gets his job back, he could overturn Musharraf’s controversial presidential election victory and oust him.