ISLAMABAD – Just hours before the election of new Prime Minister of the country, the PPP made a dramatic, last minute adaptation to the erratic circumstances by changing its man to be chosen for the top slot.

Raja Pervaiz Ashraf emerged to be the ‘final choice’, after issuance of non-bailable arrest warrant issued by a Rawalpindi court for leading candidate Makhdoom Shahbuddin on Thursday torpedoed the previous setting, sources said.

Shahabuddin’s nomination papers were filed though and accepted, after speaker set aside PML-N’s plea that his nomination be rejected on the grounds of his involvement in the ephedrine scam.

President Zardari has convened a special session of the national assembly at 5:30pm today (Friday) to elect a new premier after convicted prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s disqualification by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The sources said Raja’s name was finalised Thursday night after another round of arduous and unnerving intra-PPP and inter-allies meetings because the MQM opposed the former water and power minister for his alleged involvement in the rental power corruption case.

The junior yet key partner favoured Qamar Zaman Kaira, whose nomination papers were filed as a covering candidate, just an hour before the deadline for filing of the nominations.

But leadership of another ally, PML-Q, came up with a big ‘no’ against Kaira with whom they have political rivalry back home. After hectic efforts of Syed Khursheed Shah to convince Chaudhry brothers in favour of Kaira failed, the PPP-led allies were left with little choice but to give an affirmative nod in Raja’s favour.

The ANP in this whole scenario pursued the policy of supporting the PPP as a party instead of any individuals. A senior ANP leader told The Nation that they did not mind change of faces as they had decided to support any choice of the leading coalition partner.

Sources in the PPP informed that President Asif Ali Zardari after hectic brain-storming sessions at Awan-I-Sadr and taking input from his close party aides finalised Raja’s name for the slot of future chief executive of the country. They informed that Raja Pervaiz Ashraf also enjoyed the blessing of the disqualified prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other senior party leaders.

PPP sources said that PML-Q earlier had raised objection on the candidature of Ch Ahmad Mukhtar as well and got him out of the race. They said that giving the parliamentary strength of PML-Q it would have been next to impossible for the PPP to ignore their opinion and eventually they prevailed upon the Presidency once again.

Earlier in the day, PPP leaders Shahabuddin, Parvez Ashraf and Qamar Zaman Kaira filed nomination papers for the election of the premier. Parvez was then projected as a ‘covering’ or alternative candidate while Kaira filed his nominations after it emerged that the ANF court had issued a warrant for Shahabuddin. Though experts believed the arrest warrant do not undermine Shahabuddin’s nomination legally but could incur a political cost to the already under-cloud ruling party.

Arrest warrants were also issued on the request of Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) for Ali Musa Gilani – a son of disqualified prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani – who allegedly used his influence to get approved import of a large amount of the controlled drug when Shahabuddin was health minister.

Rawalpindi’s Judicial Magistrate Shafqatullah directed ANF officials to arrest and present Shahabuddin in his court within a week. Reportedly, a team of the ANF also visited Shahabuddin’s official residence after the issuance of the warrant as part of Rs7 billion ephedrine scam investigations.

The Supreme Court is examining allegations about out-of-turn quotas for importing ephedrine that were granted to two pharmaceutical companies by the health ministry during Shahabuddin’s tenure, allegedly under the influence of former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son Ali Musa Gilani.

The apex court disqualified Gilani on Tuesday in response to several petitions that had challenged the national assembly speaker’s decision not to disqualify the premier following his conviction in a contempt of court case.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry further ruled that the post of premier had been vacant since April 26, when another seven-judge bench had convicted Gilani of contempt for refusing to reopen graft cases in Switzerland against President Zardari.

Shahabuddin has been alleged to have approved the unauthorised drug quotas. However, he took up the ephedrine quota case himself in the national assembly much before the issue came to the limelight. The former health minister has called the case a conspiracy against him.

Talking to newsmen outside the parliament house after filing his nomination papers for the office of prime minister, Shahabuddin said that after taking oath he will consider whether a letter be written to the Swiss authorities for opening the case against the president or not. He denied there was any specific allegation on him in ephedrine case.

Except for the three PPP candidates, nomination papers were also filed by Sardar Mehtab Abbasi of PML-N and JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman. PPP’s Shahabuddin and Raja Pervez submitted their nominations papers in the morning while Kaira filed his papers just an hour prior to the 2pm deadline.

The PML-N candidate Mehtab Abbasi outlined his three point agenda. Speaking to the media outside the parliament, he said if elected he would implement the orders of the Supreme Court, eliminate loadshedding and hold general elections as soon as possible.

The candidates, whose nomination papers are found in order, will be eligible to contest election for the office of the prime minister. However, any candidate who desires to quit the contest can withdraw his nomination papers any time.

After election on Friday (today), the majority candidate will emerge as the prime minister-elect, till he takes oath of the office to become a prime minister. After taking oath, the new prime minister will seek vote of confidence from the house.

The new prime minister will face mounting public frustrations over a staggering range of problems, and a Supreme Court chief justice who prides himself on standing up to Pakistan’s most powerful players.

Gilani’s removal is likely to further heat up the political arena, where the civilian leadership, the powerful military and the Supreme Court square off against each other at the expense of a public longing for stability and a stronger economy. Chronic power cuts, which triggered violent protests this week, show no signs of easing.

Pakistan’s relations with the United States, which provides it with billions of dollars in aid, are at their lowest point in years. Taliban militants still pose a major security threat, despite numerous army crackdowns. The economy is struggling and analysts predict Pakistan will again have to turn to the International Monetary Fund to keep it afloat.

Thousands of corruption cases were thrown out in 2007 by an amnesty law, NRO, passed under former military president Pervez Musharraf, paving the way for a return to civilian rule. Two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that agreement illegal, and ordered the re-opening of money laundering cases against Zardari that involved Swiss bank accounts.

Gilani and his government refused to obey the court’s order to write to Swiss authorities asking them to look again at those cases, arguing that Zardari had immunity as the head of state. So, the new PM is likely face the same pressures as did Gilani from Supreme Court to reopen corruption cases against Zardari.

High drama on eve of PM election