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ISLAMABAD: Ten days before the expiry of the five-year term of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah are expected to announce the name of the caretaker prime minister on Tuesday.

Sources in the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) told Dawn that the party was considering the names of former diplomat Jalil Abbas Jilani, former Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Zaka Ashraf and former defence secretary Salim Abbas Jilani for the office of the caretaker prime minister and Mr Shah would suggest these names to Mr Abbasi.

They said that ahead of his meeting with the prime minister, Mr Shah had had a detailed discussion with PPP chairman Bilawal-Bhutto Zardari and some other senior party leaders in Islamabad on Monday.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) rejected outright the name of Zaka Ashraf but said it could consider the two Jilanis.

Talking to Dawn, PTI Information Secretary Fawad Chaudhry said Mr Ashraf could never be accepted as the caretaker prime minister because of his known affiliation to PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari. Moreover, he said, Mr Ashraf was also a member of the PPP’s Central Executive Committee (CEC).

The sources in the PPP said that Mr Ashraf had recently resigned from the party’s CEC apparently on the directive of the party leadership in anticipation of his nomination for the post of the caretaker prime minister.

The PML-N and the PPP had reached an understanding to delay announcing the names of the caretaker set-up probables and keep their discussions under wraps as long as possible to avoid unnecessary debate in the media.

Both the prime minister and the opposition leader had already held three known formal meetings on the issue, but each time they claimed that they had not discussed or exchanged the names so far.

The PTI had last month leaked the names of its candidates for the office of the caretaker PM and chief ministers in three provinces to the media. Its nominees for the caretaker prime minister were former chief justice of Pakistan Tasadduq Hussain Jilani, businessman Abdur Razzaq Dawood and economist Dr Ishrat Husain.

The PTI later said in an official handout that it had not officially released the names to the media and that the party was still discussing the matter.

Fawad Chaudhry had been critical of the government and the PPP for keeping the discussion on the caretaker set-up “secret”, saying they were not appointing atomic scientists. He had said even PTI chairman Imran Khan was of the view that there should be a public debate on the names of candidates for the caretaker set-up.

The term of the present government comes to an end on May 31, after which the caretaker set-up will be put in place to hold elections which are expected to be held in the last week of July.

The sources said that the PPP and the PML-N did not have any objection to the name of retired Justice Tasadduq Hussain Jilani, but the two parties believed that the caretaker prime minister should not be from the judiciary.

“We are opposed to the appointment of a retired judge or a retired general for the post of the caretaker prime minister,” said a senior PPP office-bearer who is privy to the discussions in the party on the issue.

The sources said the PML-N was not much interested in pressing for its nominees and was ready to agree on the PPP’s nominee. They said the PML-N was even ready to consider the PTI’s nominees. They said the only new name which had been in circulation within the party ranks was that of former Supreme Court judge Nasirul Mulk.

The term of the PML-N government is set to expire on May 31, after which the caretaker setup will be put in place. If the prime minister and the opposition leader fail to reach a consensus on a candidate, they will have to make public three names each. The list of the six nominees will be referred to a parliamentary committee, which will be formed by the National Assembly speaker.

If the committee also fails to come to a decision, the matter will be referred to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which will then have prerogative to choose any one of the six nominated candidates.

The PPP and the PML-N have already expressed the desire that they want to announce the name of the caretaker prime minister with consensus and do not want to see the matter getting referred to the ECP.

Fawad Chaudhry also said that his party also wanted the politicians to finalise the names with consensus. He said the PTI did not want to see the politicians handing over their affairs to other institutions.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2018