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ISLAMABAD, March 30: Two dozen ministers are due to take oath from President Pervez Musharraf on Monday to mark a belated birth of new Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s cabinet.

But it will only be the first batch of a coalition cabinet of the president’s political opponents whose leaders say the team will be expanded later.

Mr Gilani, of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was elected prime minister by the National Assembly on March 24 and sworn in by the president the next day, but the formation of his cabinet had been held up mainly by differences between coalition partners on taking portfolios although they had agreed quite early to share the ministries in proportion to the National Assembly seats they won in the Feb 18 general election.

However, the coalition, which also includes the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and two smaller partners, managed to send a list of the first batch of 24 nominees to the presidency on Saturday after Mr Gilani took an unprecedented unanimous vote of confidence from the National Assembly and unveiled a programme of his government’s priorities for the first 100 days of its five-year term.

The list includes two women members of the lower house and three members of the Senate.

Monday’s swearing-in ceremony, likely to begin at the presidency at 1pm, will mark the induction of the first cabinet of the president’s opponents after eight and a half years of his military-led government’s iron-grip.

The PML-N had originally declined to join the cabinet while offering to support the PPP-led government from outside because its members did not want to take oath from President Musharraf whom they did not regard as a legitimate head of state due to the controversy over his election in October for a new five-year term.

However, the PPP later persuaded its former arch-rival turned ally to join the cabinet like the PPP would do in the PML-N-led coalition in the Punjab province.

But two senior parliamentarians from the both the parties --- PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani and PML-N MNA Makhdoom Javed Hashmi --- did not budge and have stayed out of the cabinet because they have refused to be administered oath by President Musharraf.

PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari told reporters in Lahore on Sunday after a meeting with PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif that the cabinet would be expanded later with more ministers from all the four provinces, but he did not say how many more ministers would be taken and when it would happen.

Although no limit has been set for cabinet strength, the spokesmen for the main coalition partners have said they will not like to have a 70-plus crowd of President Musharraf’s hand-picked previous prime minister Shaukat Aziz.

Coalition sources have said the 24-strong first group will have 11 ministers from the PPP, nine from the PML-N, two from the Awami National Party (ANP) and one each from the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F) and the party-less Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). But neither party has formally announced its nominees.

PPP MINISTERS: However, according to coalition sources, PPP ministers, with their likely portfolios, will be: Syed Khurshid Ahmad Shah (labour, manpower and overseas Pakistanis or parliamentary affairs), Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar (defence), Raja Pervez Ashraf (water and power), Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi (foreign affairs), Syed Naveed Qamar (privatisation, or ports and shipping), Sherry Rehman (information and broadcasting), Senator Farooq Naek (law and justice and human rights), Qamar Zaman Kaira (Kashmir affairs and Northern Areas), Nazar Gondal, Najmuddin Khan and Humayun Kurd.PML-N: Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan (senior minister, communications), Senator Ishaq Dar (finance), Khwaja Mohammad Asif (petroleum and natural resources), Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan (railways), Mrs Tehmina Daultana (women development), Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (defence production), Ahsan Iqbal (education), Saad Rafiq (youth affairs), and Rana Tanvir (food and agriculture).

ANP: Ghulam Ahmad Bilour (local government) and Khawaja Mohammad Khan Hoti (social welfare and special education).

JUI-F: Senator Rehmatullah Kakar (religious affairs).

Fata: Hamidullah Jan Afridi (states and frontier regions).