Islamabad: Pakistan's ruling party chose outgoing Textiles Minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin as its candidate for Prime Minister on Thursday, moving quickly to quell fears of a government showdown with the judiciary after former PM Yousuf Raza Gilani was ousted by the Supreme Court for contempt of court, a presidential spokesman said.
But in a sign that his nomination - and indeed his premiership if elected by lawmakers - might not be smooth, Pakistani television stations said an anti-narcotics court judge in the northern city of Rawalpindi had issued on the same day an arrest warrant for Shahabuddin, citing his alleged role in scandal involving the import of a drug that can be used to make methamphetamine. It was not immediately possible to independently confirm the development.
Shahabuddin, who is considered a Pakistan People's Party loyalist, filed his nomination papers at parliament. The PPP's coalition has a majority in the house.
Yousuf Raza Gilani was dismissed by the Supreme Court on Tuesday for contempt of court for failing to initiate a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari, the head of the PPP. That was the climax of a bruising power struggle between the government and activist judges. PPP politicians almost immediately began to circulate Shahabuddin's name as a replacement.
The next prime minister will likely also face the same order from the Supreme Court to investigate Zardari, meaning political instability will continue until the government's term ends in March 2013. The Gilani government has been widely criticized for exacerbating or doing nothing to address the massive economic and security challenges in the country.
Speaking to reporters after filing his papers, Shahabuddin was asked about the reported arrest warrant. He replied quoting a line from a poem about not being afraid of "hostile winds." It's unclear whether the development could derail his nomination. Legal cases are routinely filed against Pakistani politicians by rivals as a means of weakening them. Often, the cases drag on in the courts for years, and the politician's career is unhindered.
Shahabuddin was health minister when the scandal broke, to which Gilani's son has also been linked. It revolves around two Pakistani pharmaceutical companies that allegedly used political connections to obtain huge amounts of ephedrine in 2010. They are suspected of diverting it to people in the drug trade who could have used it to make methamphetamines worth billions of dollars. The companies have denied any wrongdoing, as has Gilani's son.
Stability in Pakistan is seen as vital to American goals of withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2014 and long-term victory against international jihadist terrorism. But relations between Washington and Islamabad are strained over a host of issues, including blocked war supply lines to Afghanistan and Pakistan's alleged support for the Afghan Taliban.
The dismissal of Gilani has made it more likely that polls will now be held before next year, possibly as early as November. Elections in Pakistan must be held under a supposedly neutral caretaker government in place three months before polling day, meaning the current government could be dissolved as early as August.
Shahabuddin, 65, comes from a wealthy, landowning family based in the central Pakistani district of Rahim Yar Khan.
His father had served as minister in the cabinets of two Pakistani governments. He also served as minister for finance and health in the current government.
Story first published:
June 21, 2012 13:58 IST