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Pakistan's Political Crisis Grows as PM Nominee Faces Arrest

Makhdoom Shahabuddin, nominated prime minister by the ruling Pakistan People's party, waves after filing his papers in Islamabad, Pakistan, June 21, 2012.

Makhdoom Shahabuddin, nominated prime minister by the ruling Pakistan People's party, waves after filing his papers in Islamabad, Pakistan, June 21, 2012.

ISLAMABAD - One of the candidates chosen to replace Pakistan's ousted prime minister is facing an arrest warrant, underlying the ruling party's inability to escape its image of corruption.

On Tuesday, Pakistan's Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani after he defied its order to start an investigation into corruption allegations against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Hours after the ruling Pakistan People's Party chose Makhdoom Shahabuddin as a candidate for the prime minister post, a local judge issued an arrest warrant against him in connection with a scandal involving violated quotas for importing the drug ephedrine during his time as health minister.

Prime Minister Candidates in Pakistan

Makhdoom Shahabuddin
-currently serves as textile industry minister for ruling party
-previously considered for foreign minister
-faces arrest for his alleged involvement as health minister illegally importing the drug ephedrine
-belongs to a well-known religious family that is the custodian of the Sufi Muslim saint Shah Rukn-e-Alam's mausoleum

Raja Pervez Ashraf
-current lawmaker for ruling party
-previously served as water and power minister
-has cases pending against him in the Supreme Court and is among those named in a rental power plant case

Qamar Zaman Kaira
-served as the most recent information minister for ruling party
-previously served as governor of Gilgit-Baltistan

Mehtab Abbasi
-member of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League party aligned with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Maulana Fazlur Rehman
-head of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl party
The move reflects a judiciary as well as a population increasingly fed up with the government.

The country is being led by criminals, says Pakistani shopkeeper Arfan.

“It would be better that a transparent and honest person be put in place. But we are not concerned with who comes in. We just want someone who solves our problems, like electricity and gas. It’s becoming difficult for us to live," Arfan said.

The Supreme Court's decision this week is the first time it has forced the removal of a standing prime minister. The move was a blow to Mr. Zardari’s government, already struggling with rolling blackouts, unemployment, militant attacks and a tense relationship with the United States.

Supporters of the court, including the political opposition, have welcomed its stand against what they believe is a corrupt and ineffective government.

Others, like political analyst Ahmed Rashid, feel the Supreme Court is overstepping its boundaries and doubts that the election of a new prime minister will bring an end to the standoff.

“I think this is going to continue," he said. "I don’t think the judges are going to be satisfied by just having had the power to oust the prime minister. They want the president.”

The current crisis was brought on by long-standing calls for President Zardari to answer to allegations that he has hidden money in a Swiss bank account.

The PPP and its political allies, who hold a simple majority in the assembly, have also put forward the names of former Information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira and legislator Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.

The opposition has fielded two candidates. But, opposition parties are taking advantage of the government’s troubles to demand for early national elections.

Cases could be brought before the Supreme Court to ask it to rule on the issue, said Rashid.

“The economic crisis, the energy crisis, and other things which the government has been unable to resolve,” he said.

Elections are due to take place before March 2013, but some now believe the vote could take place before the end of this year.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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