By Kamran Haider
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Set to lead Pakistan's incomingcoalition government, the party of assassinated former primeminister Benazir Bhutto will nominate its candidate for thepremiership by Sunday, a spokesman said.
The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is led by Bhutto'swidower, Asif Ali Zardari, but he is ineligible for thepremiership because he is not a member of the assembly, andmore than a month after a parliamentary election Pakistanisremain unsure over who their next prime minister will be.
There is speculation that the PPP will nominate a stop-gapprime minister, and Zardari will move into the slot later. Buthe will have to win a by-election first.
"The last date for submitting nomination papers is Sunday,so naturally the name (of prime minister candidate) will beannounced either on Sunday or Saturday," said Zardari'sspokesman Farhatullah Babar.
Bhutto's 19-year-old son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari hasreturned to Pakistan and is expected to reveal the party'schoice. The new prime minister would then be sworn into officeon Tuesday.
President Pervez Musharraf has few allies left in theassembly after their defeat in an election on February 18.
Musharraf, who came to power as a general in a coup in1999, appears increasingly isolated, and there is intensespeculation over how long the U.S. ally will be able to holdonto power.
The incoming government has pledged to pass a resolution toreinstate Supreme Court judges who Musharraf replaced inNovember out of fear that they could rule unconstitutional hisown re-election by the previous assembly.
Musharraf has asked the National Assembly to reconvene onMonday to elect the PPP's choice.
The election should be straightforward, after theoverwhelming majority the assembly gave PPP candidate FehmidaMirza when it voted on Wednesday to make her its first womanspeaker.
Makhdoom Amin Fahim, a senior aide to Bhutto and Zardari'sdeputy, had been favourite but his prospects dimmed afterSharif's party objected to his contacts with Musharraf.
Other potential candidates include Yousaf Raza Gilani,Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar and Shah Mahmood Qureshi. They all hailfrom the central province of Punjab, whereas the PPP'sstronghold is the southern province of Sindh.
Gilani, PPP's vice chairman, spent at least four years inprison on charges of making illegal government appointments.Mukhtar defeated Musharraf's ally Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain,chief of Pakistan Muslim League, in the election. While Qureshiis president of PPP in Punjab.
The February 18 election saw the PPP emerge with the mostseats in the 342-member National Assembly but not enough torule alone.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's party came second,dealing a crushing defeat to the pro-Musharraf Pakistan MuslimLeague.
Sharif, the leader Musharraf deposed, and Zardari signed anagreement this month to form a coalition with a small regionalparty and a religious party.
Like Zardari, Sharif did not stand in the election.
(Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Bill Tarrant)