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PPP’s Fahim may be PM
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

Makhdoom Amin Fahim
Makhdoom Amin Fahim
vice-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party

Makhdoom Amin Fahim, vice chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), appeared to have won support to be the party’s consensus candidate for the Prime Minister’s post at a meeting of its parliamentary party here today.

The meeting, however, withheld the announcement of the name and authorised PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari to do that at an appropriate time. Zardari briefed the meeting on his parleys with other political parties on the issue, particularly with the Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) and the Pushtoon Nationalist Awami National Party (ANP), which have assured to support the PPP in forming the government.

The meeting decided to strike down Article 52-B of the constitution as its first act when the Parliament meets. That will deprive the President of power to dissolve the Assembly. A pervasive apprehension looms over the new Assembly that Musharraf may conjure up a crisis on government formation to exercise his authority to thwart popular mandate against him.

The PML-N is fully supportive of this move. The PPP and the PML-N had joined hands in 1998 during the Nawaz Sharif’s government to amend the constitution for abolishing the article, but Musharraf revived it under the Legal Framework Order in 2002.

Addressing the parliamentarians, Zardari repudiated speculations that the Assembly would not survive for more than three months. He thanked PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif for extending support to the PPP in government formation and holding assurance that this government would live its five year-term.

He said the PPP would coalesce with the PML-N, the ANP, besides other democratic forces to form a government of national consensus. He also vowed to take along those parties that had boycotted the elections and referred to his telephonic conversation with APDM leaders Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Imran Khan and Mahmood Khan Achkzai, who assured support for a stable democratic government. He also explained his stance on the reinstatement of deposed judges.

The PPP co-chairman could not say with certainty that the PML-N would also join a coalition government or sit outside and extend support. Sharif told reporters after meeting with Zardari that both parties had agreed to work together in government formation at the Centre and in provinces. They were, however, yet to sort out modalities for a coalition. PML-N sources said some key issues, particularly the restoration of deposed judges, continued to divide them. Nawaz Sharif has said the PPP’s agreement in principle to the restoration of judges facilitated their agreement on mutual support in government formation.

Zardari had another meeting with US Ambassador Ann Patterson, who had been extremely active in the ongoing feverish activity in the capital ahead of the formation of the government. She visited Zardari House for the meeting against the backdrop of criticism faced by Zardari when he went to the US Embassy on Wednesday. Political circles say the Bush administration is trying to influence the government formation in Pakistan and ensure continuation of its strongest ally, President Pervez Musharraf who is increasingly coming under intense pressure to step down after the humiliating defeat of his allies.

The US envoy also met ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan in the embassy. The ANP has emerged a major player in the NWFP replacing religious grouping, the Muttahida Majlise Amal (MMA), which has suffered a serious setback after ruling the province for five years. The ANP is likely to join a coalition at the Centre that will also include the PML-N.

Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif told his party leaders in Mansehra today that he extended support to the PPP after Zardari agreed to the demand for the restoration of the sacked judges and independence of judiciary. He said the reinstatement of judges would remain top priority items for his party.

Sharif said President Pervez Musharraf should respect the verdict of the people and step down instead of prolonging uncertainty. Sharif drove to Mansehra to mourn the death of his son-in-law, Captain Safdar.

Sharif was elated by a report that the Election Commission had declared his party’s candidate in Mansehra’s National Assembly seat, Lieut-Gen Slahuddin Tirmiza as winner. Tirmzai elbowed out PML-Q’s Shahjehan by 56 votes in recounting on Thursday raising PML-N’s tally to 68 in the Assembly.

The PPP meeting also grappled with the proposition to associate the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Sindh in the face of fierce opposition by provincial leadership of the party. They considered the MQM a dubious and problematic partner in any coalition because of past experience.

Zardari also gave a go ahead to the PPP leadership in Balochistan to work for building a coalition with smaller parties and independent members. The PML-Q is the single largest party in the new Assembly with 17 seats against the PPP’s 7 in the 61-member house. But the party is facing split that has encouraged the PPP to try to lead the government.



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