ISLAMABAD – Pakistan's president summoned parliament to meet on Friday to elect a new prime minister, with the outgoing textile minister emerging as the likely candidate for the job.
Yousuf Raza Gilani was dismissed Tuesday along with his Cabinet by the Supreme Court for failing to investigate his ally President Asif Ali Zardari for corruption, adding to political instability in a country already saddled with massive economic and security problems.
But in moving quickly to install a new premier — and not defying the court order as some had predicted — the government may reduce fears of major upheaval, at least in the short term.
In a statement Wednesday, the presidency said the national assembly would be convened on Friday afternoon.
A government official confirmed that the purpose of the meeting was to elect a new premier.
Zardari's Pakistan People's Party has the largest number of seats in parliament and is currently in government with coalition partners, which must also support his choice for prime minister to ensure he gets elected. Zardari has been meeting those partners to discuss a candidate.
The official said that Makhdoom Shahabuddin, the outgoing textile minister, was the likely candidate, as did another member of the ruling PPP. They didn't give their names because they weren't authorized to speak on the record about internal party decisions.
Shahabuddin is from Rahim Yar Khan, a conservative Islamic city in south of Punjab province. He is considered a party loyalist and was known to be close to Zardari's late wife Benazir Bhutto, who headed the party but was killed in 2007 by Islamist militants.
Whoever takes over will not have long in power and is likely to face a rocky ride.
The government must call elections before March next year. Under the constitution, polls can only be held under a caretaker government, which must be in place three months before election day. Many analysts have speculated that the current political upheaval may expedite the polls, possibly to November. Elections before that date are considered unlikely because of the fierce summer heat.
The new prime minister will also likely run into trouble with the Supreme Court, which is expected to make the same demand of him or her as it did of Gilani, namely to initiate a corruption probe against Zardari. The court has been criticized by some for taking political decisions and jeopardizing the democratic setup in Pakistan.