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Musharraf Names Interim Prime Minister Amid Political Turmoil

Mohammedmian Soomro, the chairman of the upper house of Parliament and a Musharraf loyalist, is expected to be sworn in as interim prime minister on Friday and will head a caretaker government, the Associated Press reported. The interim line-up will oversee Jan. 9 elections, part of a promised transition to democratic rule in Pakistan.

But opposition party officials maintain that regardless of who heads the caretaker administration, elections won’t be free and fair under emergency rule Musharraf imposed Nov. 3.

Bhutto, who leads the Pakistan People’s Party, has been contacting other opposition leaders in the hopes of creating a government to replace Musharraf. She has even reached out to rival Nawaz Sharif, an exiled former prime minister and the head of the Pakistan Muslim League.

“I am talking to the other opposition parties to find out whether they are in a position to come together. We need to see whether we can come up with an interim government of national consensus to whom power can be handed,” Bhutto told the AP.

Early Friday, Pakistan’s government lifted a house arrest order imposed on Bhutto to prevent her from leading a protest procession against Musharraf’s recent imposition of emergency rule, police said.

“The government has withdrawn Bhutto’s detention order, and from now, she is free to move wherever she likes,” Aftab Cheema, police chief of the eastern city of Lahore, told Reuters.

In a telephone interview from his home in Saudi Arabia, Sharif said he supported the idea of a unity government to help stabilize Pakistan.

“I will be very happy to extend any cooperation to rid the country of a dictator, but it is important the judiciary is reinstated,” Sharif told the AP.

But Sharif told the news agency they weren’t in a position to form an acting government unless Musharraf was removed from office. Bhutto also indicated a need for a voluntary transfer of power, saying she shared U.S. concerns about a power vacuum should Musharraf be ousted.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is scheduled to visit Pakistan this week to press Musharraf to end the state of emergency and free detained political activists.

Bhutto and Sharif have signaled that they may boycott the January poll if the constitution is not restored, news agencies reported. Musharraf has said the emergency rule declaration was needed to help combat terrorism and extremism.

“Free and fair elections are not possible under emergency rule when the entire opposition is missing from the scene. In this scenario, there will be a selection and not an election. No one will accept the results,” Ishtiaq Ahmed, an associate professor of international relations at the Quaid-e-Azam International University of Islamabad, told Bloomberg News.

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