A party that supported Pakistan's president during his regime has announced it will back the prime minister candidate of the Pakistan Peoples Party. The United National Movement party, or MQM, also says it will consider joining a grand coalition with two parties that long opposed President Pervez Musharraf's autocratic rule. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from Islamabad the surprise announcement comes ahead of the PPP announcing its candidate for prime minister.

A key political party backing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is throwing its support to the prime ministerial candidate of the rival party of the late Benazir Bhutto.

Leaders of the United National Movement, known as the MQM, announced Saturday they will not field their own candidate when parliament convenes in two days to choose the government's next leader.

The MQM's parliamentary leader, Farooq Sattar, says his party is also willing to join the governing coalition headed by the Bhutto dynasty's Pakistan Peoples Party and the Muslim League faction of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

"Our doors are open," he said. "We have very categorically said on so many occasions that we are not dying, we are not desperate to go into the government. Whatever we are doing is in the larger national interest to really bring about a national reconciliation."

Sattar himself had been expected to stand as a candidate for prime minister in opposition to the PPP. He says his decision to withdraw has been endorsed by the other pro-Musharraf party, the "Q" faction of the Pakistan Muslim League.

In last month's national elections, the PPP emerged as the largest party. Its leader, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated following a campaign rally in late December.

Saturday's developments will give the PPP's candidate smooth sailing through Parliament and raise hopes of Pakistan making a return to an era of democracy.

President Musharraf took power in a 1999 coup, ousting Mr. Sharif. President Musharraf, who has become increasingly unpopular, gave up his powerful post as army chief last November under international pressure. He is to swear in the new prime minister on Tuesday.