3/7/2008 16:20 Embassy Islamabad CONFIDENTIAL ISLAMABAD 001034 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/07/2018 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PHUM, PK
SUBJECT: ZARDARI DROPS FAHEEM AS PM CANDIDATE
REF: ISLAMABAD 900
Classified By: Anne W. Patterson, for reasons 1.4 (b), (d)
Zardari Drops Faheem
1. (C) Summary. Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Amin Faheem told Ambassador March 7 that Asif Zardari does not want him to be Prime Minister because the party needs a Punjabi to counter the influence of Nawaz Sharif. Zardari offered Faheem the post of Speaker of the National Assembly or any other ministry, but said Faheem would have to take the somewhat humiliating step of announcing Zardari's PM choice to the nation. Given these conditions, Faheem declined and told Ambassador he would resign from the PPP.
2. (C) Faheem indicated that Zardari is leaning towards naming Ahmed Mukhtar as PM, a suggestion supported by reports from PPP rank and file. Zardari declined March 6 to name a PM candidate and is continuing consultations with PPP national and provincial parliamentarians. We do not expect a PM announcement before next week. Meanwhile, the Election Commission results indicate that a PPP/Nawaz/Awami National Party coalition will be just short of a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. Accordingly, PPP discussions with various parties continue. While not directly seeking USG support for his candidacy, Faheem indicated he would like us to intervene. There are no sure winners among the four PM candidates, and we suspect Zardari wants the job himself. End summary.
Zardari Drops Faheem
3. (C) Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Vice Chairman Amin Faheem asked to see Ambassador in a one-on-one meeting March 7 to tell her that PPP Co-Chair Asif Zardari called him in March 6 to say that Faheem would not be Prime Minister. Zardari explained that he wanted a Punjabi as PM because the PPP needed to build up support in the Punjab to counter Nawaz Sharif. Zardari offered Faheem the post of Speaker of the National Assembly or any ministry of his choice, but wanted Faheem to announce Zardari's PM choice to the nation.
4. (C) This last demand was too much for Faheem, who declined Zardari's offer and told Ambassador that he would resign from the party and go off “on my own.” He described Zardari's offer as being embarrassing and humiliating. He explained that it was untenable to be denied the PM slot after 40 years of loyal party service, including “honorably representing Benazir during eight years when she was in exile.” Noting his own credentials and solid support within the PPP rank and file, Faheem indicated he considered Zardari a bit of an upstart and an outsider.
5. (C) Noting that he had a good reputation with Punjabis as well as Sindhis, Faheem also said he had the support of Musharraf and could work with the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). When pressed, Faheem declined to elaborate on what he really might do if he resigned from the party. He did note that Musharraf had offered the PM job to him in 2004 on the proviso that he resign from the party; Faheem declined.
6. (C) While not asking for USG help directly, Faheem told Ambassador several times he wanted to “inform” her of the news. Ambassador responded that the USG holds Faheem in high regard.
Leaning Towards Mukhtar
7. (C) Faheem indicated to Ambassador that Zardari was leaning towards selecting Ahmed Mukhtar as Prime Minister but that Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Yousef Raza Gillani were still in the running. Ambassador asked Faheem if he believed Zardari wanted the job for himself; Faheem said he was not really sure.
Zardari Lectures the “Swatch” Crowd
8. (C) Faheem's news about Mukhtar tracks what we have been hearing at lower levels of the PPP. On March 6, Zardari postponed his expected announcement of prime minister until a date uncertain, probably when the parliament convenes in a week or two. Zardari spent most of March 6 meeting PPP parliamentarians at Zardari House in Islamabad and will continue meeting PPP winners in the provincial assemblies over the weekend.
9. (C) Describing events March 6, PPP contacts said that Zardari lectured an overflowing crowd at Zardari house for two hours with lessons on the importance of party loyalty and image. It was suggested that the parliamentarians dress and act modestly, forgoing their Rolex watches for Swatch watches. Sherry Rehman then read Benazir's will to the crowd. Zardari followed with personal stories of when Benazir was Prime Minister and he had worked so hard to respond to requests for favors from party loyalists. Then, when Zardari was imprisoned, he said he learned who his true friends really were. He cited Ahmed Mukhtar, asking him to come from the back to the front of the room, and described how Mukhtar had visited him in jail and supported him when so many others abandoned him.
10. (C) Zardari's inner circle has been consistently dismissive of Faheem. Several in the PPP caucus, however, have named Faheem as their choice for PM, citing his long and faithful service to the party, particularly during Benazir's self-imposed exile. They cautioned, however, that Faheem, with his independent party base, is too much competition for Zardari. Many say that party leaders Yousuf Raza Gillani and Shah Mehmood Qureshi are too “new” to the party to be PM.
11. (C) The Election Commission is tallying final numbers with the addition of the apportioned women/minority seats. It appears that the PPP, Nawaz and ANP are just short of obtaining a two-thirds majority (228 seats) in the National Assembly. Thus while Zardari tries to reach consensus within his own party, the PPP also continues to negotiate with potential coalition partners. Party representatives, if not Zardari himself, have met with nearly the entire spectrum of Pakistani politicians, including a possible break-away group from the still ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML), the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) leader Fazlur Rehman.
12. (C) Fazlur Rehman is bidding to work with the PPP on forming a provincial government in Balochistan and his six seats in the National Assembly could be enough to put the PPP coalition over the two-thirds mark. MQM is still in discussions over joining the PPP at the federal and/or Sindh provincial level; their support would be important in the federal Senate as well. The PPP has won the support at the federal level of the Awami National Party (ANP) in exchange for an ANP-led Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) provincial government. It appears that Nawaz's Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party has all but locked up the Punjab.
13. (C) Faheem told Ambassador that Nawaz is softening his stance on the issue of restoring the judiciary, but Faheem appeared uniformed on the latest status of negotiations. PML-N rank and file continue to press, however, for restoration of the judiciary that they believe will result in Musharraf's ouster.
14. (C) Meanwhile, Musharraf's PML party waits in case the coalition with Nawaz breaks down and Zardari turns to PML to form a coalition. Behind the scenes PML reportedly continues to undercut Nawaz with allegations of his ties to extremists. Musharraf March 7 pledged again to work with the new government and to convene the parliament in a week or two.
15. (C) Comment: There are no sure winners among the four PPP contenders for PM, and we suspect Zardari just wants a placeholder until he himself qualifies for the job through a by-election. Some, however, believe he wants to control the party behind the scenes. His elaborate consultations with rank and file and the continued delays, however, are weakening the party. It is unclear if Faheem will follow through on his threat to resign and possibly form a splinter group. We know he has reached out to Musharraf, but we doubt he would join the opposition when his beloved PPP was in power.