South Asia

The frontrunners to be Pakistani PM

The governing Pakistan People's Party is urgently trying to decide who should succeed Yousuf Raza Gilani as head of government, after the Supreme Court abruptly disqualified him from office.

Hopefuls have to submit their applications for the job by Thursday, and the National Assembly will decide on a successful candidate on Friday.

BBC Monitoring's Sajid Iqbal profiles four of the presumed frontrunners for the post.

Makhdoom Shahabuddin

Makhdoom Shahabuddin, the outgoing minister of textiles, is seen by many as the leading contender to replace Mr Gilani. The widely-read Geo News website even says that President Asif Ali Zardari has already approved his candidacy, as is his right as co-chairman of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

There are many other factors in Mr Shahabuddin's favour. He is a member of the PPP central executive committee and heads the party in his native South Punjab. He has sat in parliament on and off since 1990, and served in the cabinets of both Benazir Bhutto and Mr Gilani.

Image caption Makhdoom Shahabuddin leads the field, reports say

Against him is the consideration that Mr Gilani might not want a fellow South Punjab landlord to succeed him, as Mr Shahabuddin would thus neutralise the former prime ministers' position of influence. But the odds in his favour are still strong.

Another problem, according to Pakistan daily The Frontier Post, is that he may be arrested by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) in connection with the ephedrine quota scandal on the orders of the Supreme Court. It found that Mr Shahabuddin had issued a quota for the drug ephedrine illegally.

Ahmad Mukhtar

Another serious contender is Ahmad Mukhtar. He is also a member of the central executive committee and a former secretary general of the People's Party. He also served under Ms Bhutto.

An industrialist from Gujrat in central Punjab, a People's Party bastion, Mr Mukhtar was a contender for the premiership in 2008, when Mr Gilani took office. He served as Mr Gilani's defence minister, a difficult and highly sensitive post.

He dealt firmly with the recent "memogate" scandal, in which the ambassador to the United States was accused of sending a secret letter to top US military commander Mike Mullen seeking support against Pakistan's military leadership.

Image caption Ahmad Mukhtar was a contender for PM in 2008

He disciplined his permanent secretary for bypassing him in submitting statements by army and intelligence chiefs directly to the Supreme Court, in a clear signal to the military that they should not intervene in politics.

In the last days of his government Mr Gilani gave Mr Mukhtar a vote of confidence by appointing him water and power minister, to troubleshoot the serious energy crisis.

Counting against Mr Mukhtar is his rivalry with fellow Gujrat magnate and former prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who heads the other main party in the coalition government - the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam). It would be difficult for the government to survive if Mr Hussain objected.

Syed Khushid Shah

Image caption Syed Khushid Shah is a fixer but lacks seniority

Another minister in with a chance is Syed Khushid Shah. He is not a landlord or an industrialist, but rather a lawyer and party activist from Sindh, the People's Party stronghold, who served under both Ms Bhutto and Mr Gilani. He has a reputation as a fixer, which Mr Gilani has used to good effect by putting him in charge of religious affairs, labour relations, ties with the Pakistani diaspora and cross-party liaison. He is also People's Party chief whip.

Counting against him is his relatively junior status within the leadership.

Hina Rabbani Khar

Image caption Hina Rabbani Khar served as foreign minister

Finally, the media are also mentioning the name of former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar. She is a scion of a major political dynasty in South Punjab and sat in the National Assembly for the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam), serving briefly as a minister of state in the military government of President Pervez Musharraf.

She quit the PML(Q) in 2007 and was re-elected as a People's Party MP in 2008. She again served as minister of state for finance and economic affairs before heading the foreign ministry in 2011. It is difficult to see her as a serious candidate for the premiership in the run-up to crucial parliamentary elections.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here

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