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Bhutto party announces candidate for Pakistani PM

22/03/2008 - 19:03

By Augustine Anthony

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The party of assassinated formerPakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto nominated on Saturdayformer National Assembly speaker Yousaf Raza Gilani as itscandidate for prime minister.

President Pervez Musharraf has asked the National Assemblyto reconvene on Monday to elect the prime minister.

Gilani, a vice chairman of Bhutto's Pakistan People'sParty, is all but guaranteed to win the vote with the supportof his party, which won the most seats in a February 18parliamentary election, and its coalition allies.

The PPP is led by Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, buthe is ineligible to stand for prime minister because he is nota member of parliament.

"At this point, I only urge the nation and you all to prayfor me, that we take on such a big challenge and do somethingfor the nation, practically," Gilani told Geo Televisionshortly after the announcement.

Announcing Gilani would be the party's candidate, PPPspokesman Farhatullah Babar told reporters a consensus had beenreached within the party and with its coalition partners.

Party officials said earlier the chairman of the party, theson of Bhutto and Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, had been dueto announce the candidate but they later said he was feelingunwell.

The 19-year-old was appointed after his mother'sassassination on December 27 but has said he will complete hisstudies at Oxford University before entering politics.

There had been speculation the PPP would nominate astop-gap prime minister and Zardari would take over the postafter entering parliament via a by-election.

Analysts said the appointment of Gilani, a low-key Bhuttoloyalist, was likely to add to speculation Zardari would seekto become prime minister.

"It's not a nomination you'd expect for a five-year term,"said political analyst Masooda Bano. "He's proved his loyaltybut even in the public mind he doesn't have that strong apresence."

ISOLATED PRESIDENT

The small pro-Musharraf Muttahida Qaumi Movement said itwas withdrawing its candidate for prime minister and would votefor the PPP candidate to show goodwill.

But the main pro-Musharraf party, the Pakistan MuslimLeague (PML), which came a poor third in the election, said itwould be fielding a candidate whose name would be announced onSunday.

Musharraf, an important U.S. ally, will swear in the primeminister on Tuesday and the government is expected to be swornin later in the week.

The president, who came to power as a general in a 1999coup, appears increasingly isolated and there is intensespeculation over how long he will be able to hold on to power.

The incoming government has pledged to pass a resolution toreinstate Supreme Court judges whom Musharraf dismissed inNovember out of fear they could rule unconstitutional his ownre-election in October by the previous assembly.

If reinstated, the judges are expected to take up legalchallenges to the president.

Gilani, from the central province of Punjab, was NationalAssembly speaker from 1993 to 1997 during Bhutto's second termas prime minister. He later spent four years in prison oncharges of making illegal government appointments, charges hesaid were politically motivated.

The PPP emerged with the most seats in the 342-memberNational Assembly after last month's election but not enough torule alone. The PPP's main coalition partner, the party offormer prime minister Nawaz Sharif, came second.

Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf deposed in 1999, andZardari have agreed to form a coalition with a small regionalparty and a religious party.

(For a Reuters blog about Pakistan please seehttp://blogs.reuters.com/pakistan)

(Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Giles Elgood)


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