ISLAMABAD, March 15: There appeared to be a stalemate on Friday night on the issue of reaching consensus on a candidate for the post of caretaker prime minister.
Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan rejected all three names proposed by the ruling PPP for the post and categorically stated that the consultation process “can only move forward if the government withdraws all its nominees”.
And in a tit-for-tat response, a senior leader of the PPP told Dawn late in the night that the government had rejected the names proposed by the leader of opposition.
According to sources, the decision was taken at a meeting presided over by President Asif Ali Zardari at the Presidency.
The PPP leader who did not want to be named said the party had serious reservations over the two names suggested by the PML-N and would never accept them.
When asked about the reasons, he said President Zardari had been falsely implicated in a murder case of his brother-in-law Murtaza Bhutto in 1996 and it was Justice (retd) Nasir Aslma Zahid on whose order he had been sent to jail. About Rasul Bakhsh Palijo, he said he was not acceptable because of anti-Pakistan statements made by him. Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had said he would continue to reach an agreement on the name of a caretaker prime minister. “In case such an agreement is not possible, the government shall forward the names of two persons to the parliamentary committee as stipulated in the constitution,” he added.
On Thursday, the government picked Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Dr Ishrat Hussain and Justice (retd) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso as its nominees for caretaker prime minister.
The PML-N had put forward the names of Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, Justice (retd) Shakirullah Jan and Awami Tehrik founder Rasul Bakhsh Palijo.
During a telephonic conversation with the prime minister, Chaudhry Nisar said he had withdrawn the name of Justice Shakirullah Jan and asked the government to consider the remaining two names as final from the opposition.
Mr Ashraf confirmed in a press release that the leader of opposition had withdrawn the name of Justice Jan. It said the prime minister was in constant contact with Chaudhry Nisar in connection with the nomination of a suitable person for the office of caretaker prime minister.
According to the PML-N, Dr Shaikh and Dr Hussain are technocrats, whereas Justice Khoso is known for his association with the PPP since 70s and, therefore, they are not acceptable to the party. It said the PML-N had been against selection of a technocrat for the coveted post.
Under Article 224 of the Constitution, the leader of the house and that of the opposition have three days after the dissolution of the National Assembly on Saturday (today) to reach an agreement on the caretaker prime minister.
In the event of their failure to do so, the matter will go to an eight-member bipartisan parliamentary committee which will choose one name from the four nominees --two each from the prime minister and the leader of opposition -- within three days. The two sides can also bring in more names for consideration by the committee.
If the committee also fails to decide on a name, the Election Commission of Pakistan will select the caretaker prime minister within two days. The PML-N will hold a meeting in Islamabad on Saturday to discuss the political situation and chalk out its future course of action.
The party’s spokesperson Senator Mushahidullah Khan told Dawn that in the absence of Mian Nawaz Sharif, who is at present in Switzerland, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif would attend the crucial meeting. He said the meeting would also discuss nominations for caretaker chief minister in Punjab.
According to a source in the PML-N, the purpose of Mr Sharif’s visit to Switzerland is being kept secret even within the party. “He is there for some meetings, but with whom and for what purpose only he knows,” the source said.
CARETAKER CM: In an interesting development, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement nominated on Friday Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid as one of its five nominees for caretaker chief minister in Sindh.
If the PPP and MQM agree on the name of Justice Zahid for the post, the PML-N will be left with only one nomination, Rasul Bakhsh Palijo, for the post of caretaker prime minister.
“Things are quite fluid at the moment and will become clear only after the PML-N meeting on Saturday, whether we have to talk to the government or go for the committee-level selection of the caretaker prime minister,” said a senior PML-N leader while talking to Dawn.