WASHINGTON, Feb 5: Pakistan People’s Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has indicated that he may be the next prime minister if the Feb 18 elections bring the party to power.

In an interview to Newsweek, Mr Zardari based his claim to the country’s highest office to Benazir Bhutto’s will who, he said, clearly named him as her successor.

“There is not one single personality [in the party], apart from me, who anybody even knows,” said Mr Zardari while explaining why he thought he should be the prime minister. “No one else has a consensus.”

Mr Zardari, described by the Newsweek as Ms Bhutto’s ‘controversial widower’, also gave a copy of his wife’s handwritten will to the magazine.

In the will, Ms Bhutto addresses “the officials and members” of the PPP and writes: “I would like my husband Asif Ali Zardari to lead you in this interim period until you and he decide what is best.”

The magazine, however, notes that shortly after his wife’s assassination on Dec 27, Mr Zardari named his and Bhutto’s 19-year-old son, Bilawal, party chairman and indicated that the party’s prime-ministerial candidate would be vice-chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim.

But in a phone interview with Newsweek on Monday, Mr Zardari suggested he might be interested in the job, saying that he had the widest name recognition in the party.

The magazine also noted that a whispering campaign at home that he might not be Ms Bhutto’s legitimate heir, forced Mr Zardari to release a copy of her political will.

In his first news conference after his wife’s death Mr Zardari had refused to release the will for public, saying that it was a ‘personal property’ of his son and no one else had the right to see it.

The Newsweek quotes two long-time associates and loyalists of Ms Bhutto’s as saying that they have no doubt it is her handwriting. “I know her style,” said Mark Siegel, her long-time friend and Washington-based representative. “She wrote this document.”

The magazine notes that many election observers, including Bush administration officials, believe the PPP will dominate the voting, in part because of the anguish over Ms Bhutto’s murder.

But US officials, already concerned about Pakistan’s stability in the wake of widespread protests against President Musharraf’s rule, worry about Mr Zardari’s prominence in the party.

“A former playboy and polo star, Zardari is considered a mistrusted — and divisive — figure in Pakistan,” the report points out. “He is widely blamed for the tangle of corruption that strangled and cut short Bhutto’s terms in office.”

Mr Zardari, asked whether he was now interested in the prime ministership, at first demurred. “In order to be prime minister you have to be a member of Parliament. I’m not running for this Parliament at the moment,” he said. But, Mr Zardari added that the party leadership would ultimately decide who the PM candidate should be. “We’re not saying I am [one] or saying I’m not,” he said. He also argued that he had earned credibility by having gone to prison on what he says are trumped-up charges of corruption.



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