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Pakistan Poised to See Veteran Politician as Next Prime Minister

The Pakistan Peoples Party has selected as its candidate for prime minister the veteran politician Yousuf Raza Gilani. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from Islamabad that Gilani is now poised to become the country's next prime minister, but he is likely to be overshadowed by the husband of late prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The Pakistan Peoples' Party, known as the PPP, has selected a former national assembly speaker as its candidate for prime minister. A party spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, read out the name on behalf of party co-chair Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

"Consensus has been achieved in nominating the candidate for the office of prime minister. I have great pleasure in calling upon Makhdoom Yousuf Raza Gilani," the spokesman said.

PPP officials say Zardari approved the decision to name Gilani. Zardari took control of the PPP after his wife was assassinated as she left a campaign rally in late December.

Gilani is a veteran politician who enjoyed close ties to Ms. Bhutto and served as housing minister in her cabinet. He also served in two previous governments.

Gilani's family has been influential in politics over the past half century in Multan, an ancient city in the south of Punjab.

Gilani was convicted and jailed for six years for misusing his authority in the mid-1990's. At the time, he said the charges were fabricated by his political enemies.

Gilani will face token opposition in parliament from the "Q" faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, which is allied with the unpopular President Pervez Musharraf. The party holds 51 seats in the National Assembly.

Three parties pledging to support Gilani have a combined strength of 235 seats.

Pakistan's political commentators are already saying Gilani may not last long as prime minister after his election by parliament on Monday. They predict the husband of the late Ms. Bhutto will move to become prime minister within months.

Zardari is currently not eligible. He has to first win a parliamentary seat. That could happen during an up-coming by-election. Lawmakers would also need to approve a constitutional amendment revoking a law instituted in 2002 by President Pervez Musharraf that requires national legislators and high office holders to have a college degree. Zardari was recently cleared of all outstanding corruption charges, which would have been another barrier if he wants to become prime minister.

The decision to select Gilani is seen as a rebuke to the man who led the PPP while Ms. Bhutto was in exile and it could cause the party to fracture. Makhdoom Amin Fahim was viewed by some members of the incoming coalition as too soft on President Musharraf. Some of those lawmakers favor impeaching the unpopular president and former general, who came to power in a 1999 coup.