Co-Chairman PPP President Asif Ali Zardari chairing a meeting of the heads of allied parties at the Presidency. — Photo by APP

ISLAMABAD, June 19: The Pakistan People’s Party and its coalition partners accepted on Tuesday the Supreme Court verdict which unseated Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani from the office of prime minister and authorised PPP Co-Chairman and President Asif Ali Zardari to nominate his successor.

According to sources, President Zardari is expected to announce his choice at a PPP parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday evening and the National Assembly may be called into session over the next 48 hours to elect a new leader of the house.

The president has cancelled his visit to Russia, scheduled from Wednesday, due to the changed political scenario after the court’s verdict.

“I know democracy is under threat from all sides,” President Zardari is reported to have said at the coalition partners’ meeting. Despite that, he added, “no-one can force us into early elections”.

This apparently was in reference to a demand made by opposition PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif who welcomed the expected but momentous SC decision.

“We stuck to our agreed ‘no confrontation’ line so that the system is not derailed,” said a coalition party leader who attended the meeting at the presidency that continued for almost two hours.

He claimed that no specific name had been discussed in the meeting for the next prime minister, except for those which had already been in circulation in the media since the announcement of the court’s verdict. The meeting did take notice of speculations about various names, including outgoing ministers Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar (water and power), Makhdoom Shahabuddin (textiles), Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah (religious affairs) and Qamar Zaman Kaira (information and broadcasting), but no decision had been taken, said one of the participants. Those who attended the meeting included Afrasiab Khattak and Haji Muhammad Adeel of the ANP, Babar Ghauri and Haider Abbas Rizvi of the MQM, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Mushahid Hussain of the PML-Q and Munir Khan Orakzai and Abbas Afridi from Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

Despite the fact that the no specific names were discussed, the sources said, the PML-Q expressed its reservations over the name of Ahmed Mukhtar as the possible candidate for the office of the chief executive for obvious reasons. It may be mentioned that Mr Mukhtar and the Chaudhrys share the constituency of Gujrat.

The meeting was also attended by former prime minister Gilani who had arrived at the presidency after vacating his official residence and chairing a meeting of his erstwhile cabinet colleagues from the PPP.

According to the sources, during his informal meeting with former PPP ministers before shifting to the elite Islamabad Club, Mr Gilani said the party was accepting this “adverse decision” only to save the system from getting derailed.

Citing instance from history, the sources said, the former prime minister said Socrates, the Greek philosopher, had once refused to escape from the prison despite having an opportunity to do so. He then quoted Socrates as having stated that if he would not accept the wrong decisions today the people would not also accept the right decisions in future.

The Central Executive Committee (CEC) of PPP was already in session at the presidency when the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry announced the verdict. The meeting was presided over jointly by party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and President Zardari.

Later, briefing reporters about the CEC decisions, PPP secretary general Jahangir Badar and information secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira said the party had authorised President Zardari to take a decision after consulting the coalition partners.

When asked if the court’s decision had been accepted by the PPP, Mr Kaira said the party had “reservations” over it. However, his response that at present there was no chief executive in the country, according to some political analysts, was an indication that the PPP had accepted the court’s decision.

“Technically, there is no prime minister after the court’s verdict. And the cabinet does not exist if there is no prime minister,” said Mr Kaira, who was accompanied by a number of PPP leaders, including former federal ministers, at the party’s makeshift central secretariat.

“We have reservations over the verdict. However, keeping it aside we will disclose our future course of action after consultations with legal advisers and coalition partners,” he said.

Mr Kaira said President Zardari had advised party workers to exercise “restraint” and “not to hold protest demonstrations” in reaction to the court’s order.

Referring to the ongoing violent protests against power outages in Punjab, Mr Kaira said the provincial government had announced a “revolt” against the central government and the PPP did not want to push the country into a “civil war”.

“If we give a call (for protest), there is a danger of a civil war,” he said, adding the PPP had always saved the country from any damage by offering sacrifices.

The PPP information secretary categorically refuted reports in a section of the media that the government was considering the option to promulgate some ordinance to nullify the court’s verdict.

PPP secretary general Jahangir Badar told reporters that the CEC members had authorised President Zardari to take any decision after consultations with coalition partners. He said the decision of the SC had come at a time when the CEC was already in session.