ISLAMABAD, Feb 19: Abdul Hafeez Shaikh has stepped down as federal Minister for Finance and Revenue three weeks before completion of the five-year constitutional term of the government in what appeared to be a move to canvass support for his candidature for the post of caretaker prime minister.

Saleem H. Mandviwalla, who had recently been appointed minister of state for finance, was promoted and sworn in as federal minister on Tuesday.

“President Asif Ali Zardari today administered oath of office to Mr Saleem H. Mandviwala as federal minister at a ceremony held at Aiwan-i-Sadr,” a statement issued by the presidency said.

A staff officer to the former finance minister attending his personal telephone confirmed that Mr Shaikh had submitted his resignation as minister but had not yet given up his Senate seat.

“Hafeez has been able to muster support of the PPP leadership to be its top nominee for caretaker prime minister,” a close friend of the former minister told Dawn.

He is reported to have persuaded the key stakeholders in and outside Pakistan to support him and even the Pakistan Muslim League-N may have to finally accept his nomination despite initially opposing it in public, said the friend of Mr Shaikh who spent most of the day at the Hillside Road residence of the outgoing minister in Islamabad’s posh E-7 sector.

He said Dr Shaikh’s possible induction as caretaker prime minister was important in view of a likely economic bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) without which the country’s foreign exchange reserves and currency were expected to come under severe pressure in a few weeks.

Mr Shaikh has been asked to make use of good rapport with PML-N’s Ishaq Dar to secure support for his nomination and the economic package.

The lending agency made clear last month that it would not support a bailout programme without “broadest and deepest” political support for upfront economic reforms and policy changes.

“The IMF programme has become unavoidable during the caretaker period to stave off an economic crisis,” he said.

The foreign exchange reserves have depleted to a level enough to cover imports of a little over two months, while the exchange rate has dropped to a historic low.

On Sunday, Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, of the PML-N, had ruled out his party’s support for the nomination of Dr Shaikh as caretaker prime minister.

Under the law, the leader of opposition and the prime minister must agree on a name for caretaker prime minister; otherwise the Election Commission would select one from a list of four nominees. Two each proposed by the two sides.

Dr Shaikh, who served as federal minister for privatisation and investment in Gen Musharraf’s government, was appointed finance minister in March 2010 after the resignation of Shaukat Tarin. He was elected a senator on a PPP seat from Sindh.

Mr Mandviwalla was President of the Lasbela Chamber of Commerce and Industry before he was inducted as chairman of the Board of Investment in October 2008. Later elected as a senator on a PPP seat from Sindh, he was appointed minister of state about three months ago.

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