Islamabad: Pakistan`s National Assembly has been convened on Friday to elect a new Prime Minister with the name of outgoing Textile Minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin emerging as the main contender for the post.
President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also co-Chairman of ruling Pakistan People`s Party (PPP), today held several rounds of talks with senior members of his party and allies like PML-Q to build a consensus on a name that will be acceptable to the fractious coalition.
PPP Parliamentary Party also met to discuss possible names for the post of Prime Minister which fell vacant following Supreme Court`s order disqualifying Yousuf Raza Gilani for contempt.
The party insiders said that senior leader Shahabuddin has emerged as a front runner in the race.
"It is 95 per cent certain that Shahabuddin will be the candidate for the post of Prime Minister. But one never knows with our party co-chairman (Zardari), who likes springing surprises," said a PPP leader who did not want to be named.
Reports said 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.
Zardari on Wednesday summoned a special session of the National Assembly or lower house of parliament at 5.30 pm on Friday to elect the new Prime Minister.
Speaker Fehmida Mirza will chair the session, officials said.
The National Assembly Secretariat issued the schedule for the election of the new premier, according to which the nomination papers for the premiership will be accepted till 2 pm tomorrow.
The Speaker will scrutinise the nomination papers at 3 pm on Thursday and candidates whose nomination papers are in order will be eligible to contest the election.
After the election on Friday, the majority candidate will emerge as the Prime Minister-elect. After taking oath, the new premier will seek a vote of confidence from the House, officials said.
"The next Prime Minister will be elected by the national assembly. He will be a member of parliament. He will be a nice person and loyal to the party," Gilani`s lawyer and PPP member Aitzaz Ahsan told reporters.
Another strong contender is former Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, who was also tipped to become the premier after the PPP emerged the single largest party in the 2008 election.
However, the top leadership of the PML-Q, a key ally of the PPP, is opposed to the candidature of Mukhtar due to political rivalries in Punjab.
PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was defeated by Mukhtar in Gujrat city in the last general election.
PPP insiders said some party leaders had suggested the names of former ministers Hina Rabbani Khar, Khursheed Shah, Qamar Zaman Kaira and Samina Ghurki for the post of premier.
However, they do not enjoy support across the party`s rank and file, sources said.
Leaders of parties in the ruling coalition have assured Zardari of their full support for the election of the new premier, the sources said.
The leaders further advised Zardari not to confront the apex court over the disqualification of Gilani.
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.
Reports said the main opposition PML-N had decided to nominate Sardar Mehtab Abbasi as its candidate for the post of premier.
However, the PML-N candidate is unlikely to receive enough votes in the 342-member National Assembly to win the election.