Will Asma Jahangir be Pakistan’s caretaker PM?

Pakistan`s ruling PPP and main opposition PML-N are close to striking a deal on naming a consensus caretaker Premier, a report said.

Islamabad: Pakistan`s ruling PPP and main opposition PML-N are close to striking a deal on naming a consensus caretaker Premier, with top lawyer Asma Jahangir`s candidature "under serious consideration", and finalising a date for polls to be held before year-end, a media report said on Sunday.

Amidst intense speculation regarding the outcome of the confrontation between the government and the judiciary, which may see a second Premier losing his post, Pakistan`s two largest political parties "are quietly but rapidly finalising an agreement”, The Express Tribune quoted its sources as saying.

Abdullah Hussain Haroon, the Pakistan`s envoy to the United Nations, and leading lawyer Asma Jahangir, ex-president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, are being seen as candidates for the post of caretaker Prime Minister in a set-up that will oversee the election, the report said.

Jahangir`s candidature is "under serious consideration" while Haroon is being seen as a "soft, back-up option”, according to the report.

The two parties have been holding discussions in private though they continue to criticise each other in public and in the media.

The discussions between the PPP and PML-N will be crucial for the first transition from one popularly elected government to another in Pakistan`s history.

The daily said key sources in the top leadership of both parties had confirmed that talks on caretaker Prime Ministerial candidates and a date for the election were in "advanced stages”. The Supreme Court has set July 25 as the deadline for Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to approach Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

The court had earlier convicted Ashraf`s predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, of contempt and disqualified him for refusing to revive the cases.

Legal experts believe Ashraf too could be disqualified due to the government`s insistence that the cases cannot be reopened because of the constitutional immunity enjoyed by Zardari.

A member of the inner circle of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif refused to deny or confirm the names of Jahangir and Haroon as candidates for the post of caretaker Premier and "advised patience for the short term”.

He said: "Wait for two weeks and a lot will be clear, as well as some good news for all."

The daily quoted a source close to the presidency as saying: "We have been talking (to the PML-N) not for some days but for close to two months now and have whittled down some names that are generally agreeable to both (our parties)."

The source further said the caretaker Premier will "neither be from the PPP or PML-N nor one who has been a member or leader of any other political party."

Sources said Jahangir is the current frontrunner because she is known for her vociferous stand for parliamentary supremacy and rule of law and her unambiguous stand against interference of the "establishment" in the democratic process.

A source in the PML-N said the recent consensus between the PML-N and PPP on appointing Fakhruddin G Ebrahim as the Chief Election Commissioner was closely linked to Jahangir`s candidature being considered by both parties.

"Both (Ebrahim and Jahangir) have links to the legal fraternity, which respects them both, and which should come handy in dealing with any legal challenges that may be thrown by (Imran Khan`s) Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf during the tenure of the caretaker government to seek support of the judiciary in queering the electoral pitch," the source added.

Sources in the PPP told the daily that Jahangir would be a good choice for the party.

"We don`t want an interim Prime Minister who can be amenable to pressure from the (Supreme Court) judges to write a letter to the Swiss authorities during the caretaker period seeking investigations against the President," a source said.

"We want a caretaker Prime Minister who has no agenda of their own and one who can work well with the Chief Election Commissioner in focusing on the one-point agenda of holding a free, fair and impartial election."

Sources in both parties agreed the litmus test of the maturity of political forces was at hand.

"We may have our differences, and some really strong ones at that, but all we want are the freest, fairest and most credible elections in Pakistan`s history and these can only be held if, for the first time in our history, we, the political forces, and not the establishment, decide and implement the rules of the game," a source in the PPP said.

"We`ve made a solid start with the joint nomination of the CEC. However, pressure (from the establishment) is mounting and we can`t waste much time now. The elections will be held before the end of the year for which we need caretakers who can restore faith in democracy and politics and be the best advertisement for an election with a high turnout," he added.

Sources said Jahangir recently met Nawaz Sharif and a close aide of President Zardari while Haroon is scheduled to meet the two leaders over the next few days.

They also said that the PPP`s allies have agreed to leave it to Zardari to decide on a caretaker Prime Minister on behalf of the coalition.


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