Pakistan People's Party meeting to discuss new PM ends

Yousuf Raza Gilani Mr Gilani's demise is the culmination of a bitter feud between Pakistani institutions of state

A meeting of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) to discuss a new prime minister has ended without an announcement of a candidate.

The meeting comes a day after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was disqualified from holding the office by the Supreme Court.

President Asif Ali Zardari has asked parliament to elect a new PM on Friday.

Judges convicted Mr Gilani of contempt of court in April for failing to pursue corruption charges against Mr Zardari.

But they gave Mr Gilani a token sentence and spared him a jail term. The decision to disqualify him nearly two months later came as a surprise.

Mr Zardari has cancelled his scheduled visit to Russia as a result of the ruling.

The pursuit of the contempt case by increasingly assertive Supreme Court judges has been seen by critics as an attempt at meddling in the country's politics.

Mr Gilani's constituency has now been declared "vacant" by the authorities.

'Soft coup'

Sources within the PPP say at least two "covering" candidates from the party would file nominations tomorrow along with its official candidate, the BBC's Ilyas Khan in Islamabad reports.

Covering candidates are normally fielded to replace the main candidate in case his or her candidacy is rejected.

A member of the PPP parliamentary group who was at the meeting said no names were discussed, our correspondent says.

Leaders of the ruling alliance that met on Tuesday night reportedly authorised Mr Zardari to chose a candidate for the PM's office.

Mr Zardari told the meeting on Wednesday that he would choose a man who would "follow the guidelines set by the party leadership and by... Mr Gilani," a source at the meeting said.

Correspondents say that while the PPP is the largest party in parliament, it does not have a majority, so its allies will insist on concessions for their support for a new PM.

A PPP supporter chants slogans against the decision by the Supreme Court to disqualify the PM Many in the PPP have been angered by the sacking of the PM

Textiles minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin and Ahmed Mukhtar, the minister for water and power, are among names that have been mentioned as possible candidates.

The drama surrounding the PM's disqualification has been extensively covered in the Pakistani press.

The Daily Express Tribune in its editorial said that the Supreme Court "had played the roles of judiciary, legislature and executive" and that some may see the ruling as a "judicial coup".

Meanwhile, former Pakistan Bar Council President Asma Jehangir told BBC Urdu that the government had to abide by the Supreme Court if it wanted to prevent a "soft coup".

She said that there was already a "smell in the air" to suggest that "soldiers are lurking behind a civilian face" - a reference to Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The removal of the PM is the culmination of a bitter feud between Pakistan's civilian government and the judiciary.

The court backdated the disqualification to 26 April, raising questions over decisions Mr Gilani has made in office since then - including the budget.

The charges against President Zardari date back to the 1990s when his late wife Benazir Bhutto was prime minister. They were accused of using Swiss bank accounts to launder bribe money.

President Zardari has always insisted the charges against him are politically motivated.

The Supreme Court ordered Mr Gilani's government to write to the Swiss authorities to ask them to reopen the cases against Mr Zardari. But Mr Gilani refused, saying the case had been closed by a Swiss judge "on merit" and the president had constitutional immunity.

Mr Gilani and his supporters have always insisted only parliament can remove him from office.

General elections are due by early next year.

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