ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The party of assassinated former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto nominated on Saturday former National Assembly speaker Yousaf Raza Gilani as its candidate for prime minister.
President Pervez Musharraf has asked the National Assembly to reconvene on Monday to elect the prime minister.
Gilani, a vice chairman of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, is all but guaranteed to win the vote with the support of his party, which won the most seats in a February 18 parliamentary election, and its coalition allies.
The PPP is led by Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, but he is ineligible to stand for prime minister because he is not a member of parliament.
“At this point, I only urge the nation and you all to pray for me, that we take on such a big challenge and do something for the nation, practically,” Gilani told Geo Television shortly after the announcement.
Announcing Gilani would be the party’s candidate, PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar told reporters a consensus had been reached within the party and with its coalition partners.
Party officials said earlier the chairman of the party, the son of Bhutto and Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, had been due to announce the candidate but they later said he was feeling unwell.
The 19-year-old was appointed after his mother’s assassination on December 27 but has said he will complete his studies at Oxford University before entering politics.
There had been speculation the PPP would nominate a stop-gap prime minister and Zardari would take over the post after entering parliament via a by-election.
Analysts said the appointment of Gilani, a low-key Bhutto loyalist, was likely to add to speculation Zardari would seek to become prime minister.
“It’s not a nomination you’d expect for a five-year term,” said political analyst Masooda Bano. “He’s proved his loyalty but even in the public mind he doesn’t have that strong a presence.”
The small pro-Musharraf Muttahida Qaumi Movement said it was withdrawing its candidate for prime minister and would vote for the PPP candidate to show goodwill.
But the main pro-Musharraf party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), which came a poor third in the election, said it would be fielding a candidate whose name would be announced on Sunday.
Musharraf, an important U.S. ally, will swear in the prime minister on Tuesday and the government is expected to be sworn in later in the week.
The president, who came to power as a general in a 1999 coup, appears increasingly isolated and there is intense speculation over how long he will be able to hold on to power.
The incoming government has pledged to pass a resolution to reinstate Supreme Court judges whom Musharraf dismissed in November out of fear they could rule unconstitutional his own re-election in October by the previous assembly.
If reinstated, the judges are expected to take up legal challenges to the president.
Gilani, from the central province of Punjab, was National Assembly speaker from 1993 to 1997 during Bhutto’s second term as prime minister. He later spent four years in prison on charges of making illegal government appointments, charges he said were politically motivated.
The PPP emerged with the most seats in the 342-member National Assembly after last month’s election but not enough to rule alone. The PPP’s main coalition partner, the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, came second.
Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf deposed in 1999, and Zardari have agreed to form a coalition with a small regional party and a religious party.