On Saturday, the Pakistan People’s Party named Yousuf Raza Gilani as their nomination for the country’s Prime Minister, [see yesterday’s interview]. On Monday, the Parliament elected the nominee, a former house speaker and longtime aide of former PM Benazir Bhutto, to the post. According to The News, Gilani was elected with a “thumping majority,” receiving 264 votes. The other contender, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi of PML-Q, only received 42 votes. The Associated Press reported, “Gilani immediately shook the hand of Bhutto’s son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who wiped tears from his face and smiled.” Reuters noted, “There had been speculation the PPP would nominate a stop-gap prime minister and Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who now leads the party, would take over the post after entering parliament via a by-election. But the News newspaper on Monday cited Zardari as rejecting such speculation, saying Gilani would be prime minister for a full five-year term.” Gilani, however, also told reporters while filing his nomination papers Sunday that he would serve in office “as long as his party wants him to,” thereby leaving the future of the post open to speculation.
Who is Gilani, the oft-labeled “dark horse” of the nomination race, and why is his appointment significant? The politician, who was a minister in Bhutto’s 1988-1990 government and parliamentary speaker during her 1993-1996 term, was jailed from 2001 to 2006 by President Musharraf’s regime for “making illegal appointments,” a charge his party insisted was politically motivated. While in prison, Gilani wrote a book that advocated for a strong military, but one that was removed from politics. According to Reuters, the new PM has also “called for the repeal of constitutional changes made by Musharraf to bolster his authority, including the power to dismiss a government.” Asked on Sunday whether he would work with Musharraf or edge him out of office, Gilani merely responded, “I will follow the constitution.” Despite the previous accusations that led to his time in prison, Gilani forged a reputation during his time as parliament speaker as being nonpartisan and “sticking to the rules,” according to Ahsan Iqbal, a PML-N lawmaker. Iqbal told the Associated Press yesterday, “Mr. Gilani is a man who suffered from Musharraf’s martial law…He understands well that getting rid of dictatorship is important.” However, whether or not Gilani will be “temping” as our PM or will be a prominent leader during the election cycle is still up in the air. A retired general and prominent policy analyst, Talat Masood, did note to the AP news agency that the new PM would be “easier to dislodge” than other prime minister candidates who were considered for the position, (including Makhdoom Amin Fahim), a fact that is potentially significant given the questions still surrounding Zardari and his future role in the country.
[Note: Pakistaniat also included an informative profile on Gilani.]