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Shahabuddin may replace Gilani as Pak PM

PPP chooses south Punjab based leader despite Gilani's reservations

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The ruling People's Party has nominated senior leader for the post of premier following the Supreme Court's disqualification of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, according to a media report today.

The decision was made at a meeting of senior PPP leaders chaired early this morning by President Asif Ali Zardari, Geo News channel quoted its sources as saying. The meeting further decided to convene a session of the National Assembly or lower house of parliament on Thursday to formally elect the new leader of the House, the report said.

There was no official word on the development from the PPP or the presidency. The move came in the wake of two separate meetings of the PPP's central executive committee and the leaders of the ruling coalition led by the PPP.

Both meetings had authorised Zardari, the head of the PPP, to choose the new premier. A formal announcement about the nominee for the post of premier is expected after a meeting of the PPP's parliamentary party scheduled for this afternoon.    

Reports said former premier Gilani had expressed reservations over the candidature of Shahabuddin during the meeting of the PPP and its allies last night. Both Gilani and Shahabuddin belong to the southern part of Punjab and political rivalries were believed to be the reason for Gilani's reservations.    

Leaders of parties in the ruling coalition have assured Zardari of their full support for the election of the new premier, sources told PTI. The leaders further advised Zardari not to confront the apex court over the disqualification of Gilani, the sources said.

The PPP has plans to carve a new province out of the Seraiki belt in the southern part of Punjab and this is a reason for Shahabuddin's emergence as a strong candidate for the post of premier, sources said.    

The sources further said Zardari had ruled out the option of calling an early general election following Gilani's disqualification.    

Shahabuddin had yesterday emerged as a strong contender for the post of premier. He has held several portfolios in Gilani's cabinet since 2008. Besides, the top leadership of the PML-Q, a key ally of the PPP, were opposed to the candidature of former Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar due to political rivalries in Punjab, sources said.    

During a revamp of Gilani's cabinet in February last year, Shahabuddin was tipped to be sworn in as the Foreign Minister. However, the party changed its plans after Shah Mahmood Qureshi skipped the swearing-in ceremony on learning that he would not be reallocated the Foreign Ministry.    

Like Gilani, Shahabuddin belongs to a spiritual family that is revered and is the custodian of the mausoleum of the Sufi saint Shah Rukn-e-Alam.    

PPP insiders said that some party leaders had also suggested the names of former ministers Hina Rabbani Khar, Khursheed Shah and Samina Ghurki for the post of premier. However, they were not considered front-runners for the position.    

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry yesterday disqualified Gilani in response to several petitions that had challenged National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza's decision not to disqualify the premier following his conviction of contempt.    

The bench ruled that the post of premier had been vacant since April 26, when another seven-judge bench had convicted Gilani of contempt for refusing to reopen graft cases in Switzerland against Zardari.

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