AUGUST: Pakistan's outgoing Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Opposition leader Raja Riaz are racing against time to finalise the name of the caretaker premier to oversee general elections later this year, after the president gave them an ultimatum to find a "suitable person" for the appointment by August 12.
Sharif and Riaz began rounds of meetings to pick a caretaker prime minister following the dissolution of the National Assembly on August 9.
Sharif told journalists in Islamabad on Friday that he and Opposition leader Raja Riaz would finalise the name by Saturday and the former coalition parties would also be taken on board for political consultations. "Coalition partners will be taken into confidence over the matter before taking a final decision," he said.
Sharif said that he was expected to meet Raja Riaz on Friday but was unable to do so due to some of his commitments. At the same time, he said that they would meet again on Saturday.
In a letter to both Prime Minister Sharif and Riaz, President Arif Alvi informed them that under Article 224A they are supposed to propose a name for interim prime minister within three days of the dissolution of the National Assembly.
"As provided in Article 224 (1A) of the Constitution of Pakistan, the Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition in the outgoing National Assembly may propose a suitable person for the appointment of care-taker Prime Minister not later than August 12," said President Alvi in the letter.
Reacting to the president's letter, Sharif said that he was disappointed to receive it. Sharif said the Constitution provided eight days for the appointment of the caretaker premier after the dissolution of the National Assembly (NA), the lower house of Parliament.
According to the Constitution, the premier and the outgoing opposition leader in the NA have three days to decide the name of the interim prime minister. In case the two fail to agree on a name, the matter would be referred to a parliamentary committee.
If the committee fails to make any decision, then the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will have two days to choose the caretaker prime minister from the list of names shared with the commission.
Sharif also organised a dinner on Friday for his coalition partners and used the occasion for consultation on the issue of the caretaker prime minister. At the dinner, all outgoing ruling parties gave full authority to him to choose a name for the caretaker premier slot.
Prominent attendees at the dinner were Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Pakistan Democratic Movement chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan Convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and Akhtar Mengal of Balochistan National Party.
Ishaq Dar, Khawaja Asif, Marriyum Aurangzeb and Shahzain Bugti were also present during the dinner.
A source in the Prime Minister's Office said Bhutto-Zardari had conveyed to Sharif that his party would accept the premier's nominee for the caretaker slot.
Sharif and Riaz held the first meeting on Thursday, a day after the premature dissolution of the National Assembly.
The Pakistan Peoples Party has proposed the names of former diplomat Jalil Abbas Jilani and former chief justice of Pakistan Tassaduq Hussain Jilani while Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) put forward the name of Sindh Governor Kamran Tessori.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has kept its cards close to the chest, keeping everyone guessing about its candidate.
One of the reasons for the delay in deciding the name of the head of the interim set-up is believed to be the PML-N's desire to see its own man in office, the Dawn newspaper reported.
Some in political circles believe that Prime Minister Sharif wants to stay in office till August 14 so he could attend the flag-hoisting ceremony on Independence Day, after which a caretaker premier will take an oath.
A senior leader of the PML-N told the newspaper that Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani was "one of the strongest candidates."
"The Senate chairman can be the dark horse," he said while referring to Defence Minister Khawaja Asif who had first used the term "dark horse."
Other possible contenders are former finance ministers Hafeez Sheikh and Ishaq Dar, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, ex-principal secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad and ex-justice Tassaduq Jilani.