The party of recently slain Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), delayed nominating the country’s Prime Minister on Thursday, “casting the nuclear-armed nation deeper into political limbo after elections,” reported the AFP. The News added that the decision will be made in the coming days. The PPP was expected to nominate the party’s vice chairman, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, but delayed the decision due to discord over this choice. The AFP noted, “Party insiders said the dispute hinged on the fact that Fahim, the PPP’s long-term vice-president, hails from the southern province of Sindh, the Bhutto clan’s powerbase. Some party leaders wanted a prime minister fro, Punjab province, which is home to more than half of the country’s 160 million people and where Sharif’s party outnumbered the PPP in provincial polls.” Dawn also commented on this party intrigue, reporting, “…dark clouds of uncertainty appeared on the horizon recently in what seemed to be an orchestrated whispering campaign suggesting a sidelining of the party old guard from the main PPP power base of Sindh province, though there was no indication if possible alternatives mentioned were involved in the potentially damaging exercise so soon after the party’s election victory and while the new coalition of former political foes was yet to take shape.”
Benazir’s husband and the party’s co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari, said he would be in the running for the PM position because he had not contested for a National Assembly seat. Yesterday, a Pakistani court dismissed the five corruption cases against Zardari, oft-known in the country as “Mr. Ten Percent,” in what Reuters labeled “a major step towards clearing the way for him to hold government office.” The news agency added, “Pakistanis convicted of a crime are barred from standing for election and while Zardari has never been convicted, corruption cases have been hanging over him, raising doubts about his future.” PPP spokeswoman Farzana Raja told reporters, “These cases were always used as a bargaining chip by our opponents but they failed to bend the resolve of our leadership. They failed to prove any of the charges. It has vindicated our stance.”
The discord over the PM nomination is interesting, particularly if the Sindh-Punjab element is truly behind this fracture. Amin Fahim has been a longtime ally of Benazir Bhutto and effectively led the party during her exile. By choosing the leading Punjabi PPP contender, Ahmed Mukhtar, an industrialist who is reportedly close to Zardari and defeated the chief of the PML-Q in the recent elections, over Fahim, the PPP could upset party rank and the wishes of former PM Benazir Bhutto. Moreover, this could have further ramifications for party support, especially the PPP’s traditional power base in Sindh province. Ultimately, the delay and reported party intrigue merely adds to the national uncertainty over the political future of the country.