Pakistan's lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, is set to elect a new prime minister today, after the Supreme Court disqualified former Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani over contempt charges earlier this week.
Pakistan's ruling party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), has nominated a new prime minister candidate, Raja Pervez Ashraf, after a court issued an arrest warrant for its first choice, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, on Thursday.
Ashraf is believed to be loyal to President Zardari and the PPP
Ashraf served as information technology minister until the Supreme Court dismissed former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday.
The ruling coalition enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament and its candidate is most likely to win Friday elections. Two opposition candidates are also contesting these elections.
The government has also hinted at the possibility of early general elections before its mandate expires early next year.
Arrest warrant against Shahabuddin
Shahabuddin, who was the PPP's first choice for prime minister, received a big setback on Thursday when a military-backed anti-narcotics court issued his arrest warrant over a drugs scam.
Some Pakistani experts believe the warrant against Shahabuddin is politically motivated, and is part of the ongoing tug of war between institutions - these being predominantly the judiciary and the parliament.
Earlier, political analyst Hasan Askari told AFP that he suspected Pakistan's powerful military as being behind the warrant.
"Makhdoom Shahabuddin's chances are declining because the action by the anti-narcotics force gives an impression that the army is not favorable to him. It appears that the army wants to wind up the present government but without actually coming into power," Askari said.
Experts say that Ashraf is the best possible choice for President Zardari under present circumstances because he is believed to be loyal to the President.
In a controversial verdict on Tuesday, the Pakistani Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from holding office, following a contempt conviction two months ago.
In April, the court found Gilani guilty in a contempt case after he refused to write a letter to the Swiss government to re-open graft cases against Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, which the Swiss authorities had shelved in 2008. The incumbent Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government says the cases are ''politically motivated" and cannot be re-opened while Zardari remains head of state and enjoys presidential immunity.
The PPP disputed Tuesday's decision, saying that the prime minister could only be dismissed by parliament. Despite its reservations against the verdict, the PPP accepted the court's ruling.
Experts say the US is closely observing nuclear-armed Pakistan's deepening political crisis.
"Pakistan's history is marred with these kinds of political crises. The international community does not trust us. The regional situation is very complex. The recent political developments in Pakistan cannot be looked at in isolation," Zaman Khan, a Lahore-based activist, told DW.
Observers are of the view that the current turmoil in Pakistan's domestic politics is likely to affect Pakistan's relations with its neighbors and the West, in particular the United States. US-Pakistani ties have been at their nadir since a US air attack on a border post killed 24 Pakistani soldiers late last year; there have been no signs that relations will improve soon.
Author: Shamil Shams (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Sarah Berning