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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s parliament will convene to elect a new prime minister on Friday, signalling a swift resolution of the political crisis sparked by the Supreme Court dismissing Yousuf Raza Gilani.
President Asif Ali Zardari was locked in crisis talks with allies to select a consensus candidate and ultra-loyalist to take on the premiership after the court dumped Gilani on Tuesday.
But the presidency announced Wednesday that Zardari had summoned the lower house of parliament to meet at 5:30 pm (1230 GMT) on Friday.
The nuclear-armed country — facing a Taliban insurgency and subject to US wrath over havens for Al-Qaeda-linked militants fighting the Americans in Afghanistan — has been plunged into political chaos by the court ruling.
Gilani, who became prime minister following the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) election win in 2008, was dismissed after being convicted of contempt for refusing to ask Swiss authorities to reopen corruption cases against Zardari.
He moved out of the prime minister’s house, as Zardari led intense horse trading in order to set up a new executive and stave off early general elections.
Zardari chaired talks overnight with coalition leaders and met PPP MPs later Wednesday, with officials saying he hoped to finalise the nomination.
Textiles minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin and Ahmed Mukhtar, minister for water and power, are believed to be the two strongest candidates.
The national assembly said nominations had to be submitted on Thursday.
“The voting shall be recorded in accordance with the procedure... on June 22 at 5.30 pm,” its secretariat said in a statement.
Gilani’s lawyer and PPP member Aitzaz Ahsan said the new prime minister would be “a nice person and loyal to the party”.
The new premier will immediately face court demands to write to the Swiss, so analysts say Zardari will only countenance a loyalist and someone from Punjab province who can complement his own power base in the south.
Washington, which has a troubled anti-terror alliance with Islamabad, has called on Pakistan to resolve the crisis in accordance with the constitution.
The turmoil is unlikely to hasten a deal on ending Pakistan’s seven-month blockade on NATO supplies into Afghanistan, which has infuriated NATO and forced the US to use more expensive routes through central Asia.
In Pakistan, there has been criticism of the judges’ interference but other analysts pointed out the change of prime minister will have little tangible effect on policy or the longevity of the government.
The News urged Zardari to act quickly to find a cabinet capable of dealing with the huge problems facing ordinary Pakistanis — crushing power cuts, rioting, violence, inflation and insecurity.
Gilani’s disqualification was the culmination of a showdown between the judiciary led by a popular chief justice, and a weak, ineffective government that critics say has been politicised at best, or vendetta-driven at worst.
Zardari prevaricated for months on restoring the independent judiciary after the PPP won general elections in February 2008, only doing so in March 2009 to stave off a threatened opposition march on Islamabad.
In December 2009, the Supreme Court annulled a controversial amnesty that had allowed Zardari and his late wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, back into politics in exchange for a moratorium on corruption cases.
But the government refused to request the Swiss reopen investigations. The court’s patience ran out and on April 26 it convicted Gilani of contempt.
Gilani always insisted Zardari had immunity as head of state and that writing to the Swiss would be a violation of Pakistan’s constitution.
PPP supporters accuse the court, in collusion with the army and the opposition, of trying to bring down Zardari before February 2013, when the administration would become the first in Pakistan to complete a full five-year term.
The cases against Zardari date to the 1990s, when he and his late wife are suspected of using Swiss banks to launder $12 million allegedly paid in bribes by companies seeking customs contracts.
The Swiss shelved the cases in 2008 when Zardari became president. -- AFP