Mon, Jun 28, 2004 - Page 5 News List

A caretaker PM likely to serve in Pakistan for now

AP , ISLAMABAD

Former Pakistani prime minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, left, and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, right, arrive at a meeting in Islamabad, Saturday. With Jamali stepping down from his post, Hussain was expected to take over as interim prime minister.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Lawmakers will vote tomorrow for a new prime minister following the resignation of Zafarullah Khan Jamali, an official said yesterday.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party and an unswerving ally of the nation's military president, was almost certain to win the vote and take over in a caretaker role until political maneuvering allows respected Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz to assume the position.

The lower house of Parliament, which is dominated by PML-Q legislators, will take up the vote on Hussain's ascension tomorrow following party meetings, said a high-ranking official in the prime minister's office.

While the vote's outcome is sure, it was likely that opposition legislators would stage some sort of protest.

The opposition has spent much of the past 18 months banging on desks and shouting down speakers in parliament to protest what they see as President General Pervez Musharraf's attempts to whitewash what is essentially still military rule.

Jamali's resignation -- following months of speculation that his relations with Musharraf were strained -- raised questions about the pace of this nation's return to democracy five years after Musharraf's bloodless coup in 1999.

As recently as Friday, Jamali was insisting he would not resign, fueling speculation that he was pushed out by the military leader.

But Musharraf late Saturday described Jamali as a "person of sterling qualities of grace, dignity, sincerity and loyalty," according to state-run media.

The change in prime ministers was unlikely to dramatically alter Pakistan's commitment to either the US-led war on terror or fledgling peace talks with nuclear rival India -- matters that are firmly in Musharraf's hands.

Hussain's days as prime minister might be numbered.

Outgoing Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Hussain would be a caretaker prime minister and would eventually give way to Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz -- a senator who must gain a seat in the lower house of Parliament before he can be nominated.

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