Pakistan People's Party leader Makhdoom Shahabuddin on Tuesday emerged as a strong contender for the post of premier after the Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani following his conviction for contempt.
Shahabuddin, who belongs to the Seraiki belt in the southern part of Punjab province, has held several portfolios in Gilani's cabinet since 2008.
PPP insiders said that Shahabuddin and former Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar were both being considered for the post of premier.
However, Shahabuddin was being considered a stronger candidate in view of the PPP's plans to carve a new province out of the southern part of Punjab, sources said.
Besides the top leadership of the PML-Q, a key ally of the PPP, were opposed to Mukhtar due to political rivalries in Punjab, the sources added.
During a revamp of Gilani's cabinet in February last year, Shahabuddin was tipped to be sworn in as the Foreign Minister.
However, the party changed its plans after Shah Mahmood Qureshi skipped the swearing-in ceremony on learning that he would not be reallocated the Foreign Ministry.
Like Gilani, Shahabuddin belongs to a spiritual family that is revered and is the custodian of the mausoleum of the Sufi saint Shah Rukn-e-Alam.
The PPP insiders further said that some party leaders had also suggested the names of former ministers Hina Rabbani Khar, Khursheed Shah and Samina Ghurki for the post of premier.
However, they were not considered front-runners for the position. Ghurki is a low-profile leader from Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.
The issue of finding a replacement for Gilani was discussed at a meeting of the PPP's central executive committee this afternoon as well as meeting of the leaders of the PPP-led ruling coalition later in the night. MORE PTI RHL MZ ASK ASK 06200020 NNNN
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Both meetings were chaired by President Asif Ali Zardari, who is the co-chairman of the PPP.
Zardari disregarded the option of holding the next general election ahead of schedule and said the PPP would announce the name of the new premier within 24 hours, Dawn News channel reported.
The leaders of the coalition advised Zardari to avoid any conflict with the judiciary, the report said.
In a separate development, senior PPP leader Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar told the media that he was aware the party was considering him for the post of premier.
"I'm not sure about the party's decision but if the party considers me for the position of prime minister, I would duly serve the country," he said.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry disqualified Gilani in response to several petitions that had challenged National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza's decision not to disqualify the premier following his conviction of contempt.
The bench ruled that the post of premier had been vacant since April 26, when another seven-judge bench had convicted Gilani of contempt for refusing to reopen graft cases in Switzerland against Zardari. PTI RHL MZ ASK ASK 06200021 NNNN