Islamabad: The election of a new prime minister by Pakistan's National Assembly on Friday will be a three-way contest between Raja Pervaiz Ashraf of the ruling PPP, Sardar Mehtab Abbasi of the main opposition PML-N and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
The Pakistan People's Party and its allies are comfortably placed in the 342-member National Assembly to ensure that Ashraf is elected without a hitch.
The PPP has 124 members in the lower house of Parliament while its allies like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party, PML-Q and PML-F have a total of 58 seats.
Several independent lawmakers and parliamentarians from the tribal areas too are expected to back the PPP's candidate in the election.
The PML-N is unlikely to make much of a dent by fielding former North West Frontier Province chief minister Sardar Mehtab Abbasi as its nominee even though it is the second largest party in the National Assembly with 91 members.
Commentators have ridiculed the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam's decision to field Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who has long harboured a dream to be Pakistan's premier.
He has claimed he decided to contest the polls to protect democracy.
After the election, 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.
The election was necessitated because a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry disqualified Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday in response to several petitions that had challenged the National Assembly Speaker's decision not to disqualify the premier following his conviction of contempt.
The apex court 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 President Asif Ali Zardari.
Ashraf too could face problems with the Supreme Court, which had directed authorities in March to take legal action against him and several others for clearing rental power projects.
Ashraf was power minister when contracts were signed for several rental projects, which were part of the PPP-led government's strategy to overcome a crippling energy shortage.
First Published: Friday, June 22, 2012, 14:42