Pakistani Judge Orders Arrest of Prime Minister Candidate

Pakistani Prime Ministerial Candidate Makhdoom Shahabuddin
Makhdoom Shahabuddin, Pakistan's then textile minister, center, seen with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, on February 16, 2012. Photograph: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

Pakistani lawmakers are set today to vote in a successor to ousted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as the ruling coalition scrambles to settle on a suitable candidate for the job.

President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party nominated Makhdoom Shahabuddin as its candidate yesterday just before a judge ordered his arrest as part of a drugs probe, fueling reports he may be pulled from the race. Raja Parvez Ashraf and Qamar Zaman Kaira, both former ministers of Gilani’s cabinet, are the party’s other candidates.

Pakistan’s new leader will face the challenge of pursuing corruption charges against Zardari or risk meeting the same fate as Gilani, who this week became the nation’s first premier to be removed by a court ruling for failing to open graft cases against the president. A four-year clash between the government and judiciary has rocked an administration that’s aiming to be the first elected Pakistani regime to serve a full five-year term. The next general election is due by early next year.

Members of Pakistan’s National Assembly, the lower house, are scheduled to vote in Islamabad at 5:30 p.m. local time. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the main opposition, nominated Mehtab Abbasi as its candidate for premier and Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman, a religious party leader, is also a contender.

Zardari’s coalition has the parliamentary majority it would need to elect a prime minister. A party may field multiple candidates until just prior to the vote in case the nomination of one contender is rejected or withdraws for any reason.

Illicit Trade

A judge of the anti-narcotics court ordered Shahabuddin’s n arrest without bail in a case allegedly involving the illicit trade of ephedrine, Waseem Qureshi, a special public prosecutor said by phone from Rawalpindi yesterday. The anti-narcotics force is investigating whether Shahabuddin authorized an illegal permit for two pharmaceutical companies to import ephedrine during his term as health minister in 2011. The case, which also involves Ali Musa Gilani, the former premier’s son, is being supervised by senior judges headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

The Karachi Stock Exchange 100 Index, which has climbed 20 percent this year, fell 0.5 percent to 13,600.60 yesterday. Pakistan’s rupee dropped 0.2 percent against the U.S. dollar to 94.35 after weakening 5 percent this year.

Pakistan’s external payments position is under strain from a rising trade deficit and declining capital inflows, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report yesterday. Domestic political uncertainties add to vulnerabilities, according to the report.

The government is struggling to revive an economy hurt by the fastest inflation in Asia and a record energy crisis that has led to violent street protests across the Punjab province this week. It’s also seeking to mend ties with the U.S. that are critical to stabilizing neighboring Afghanistan.

Former Minister

Shahabuddin, 65, a member of the National Assembly from southern Punjab, also Gilani’s native area, has been minister of health and textiles since he was elected in 2008. He was a finance minister in slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s earlier cabinet.

Pakistan’s most senior judges convicted Gilani, 60, of contempt of court on April 26 for failing to act on an earlier order to pursue corruption investigations against Zardari in Swiss courts. Gilani’s lawyers failed to convince judges that the constitution grants the president immunity from prosecution while in office.

Negotiating with political parties to stay on as a civilian president, former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007 decreed an amnesty to halt corruption probes against 8,000 politicians and officials, including Zardari and his wife, Bhutto.

The Supreme Court in 2009 ordered the government to formally ask Swiss authorities to revive cases there against Zardari and Bhutto, who was assassinated at a political rally.

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