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Bhutto’s party selects prime minister candidate

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto picked a respected but lesser-known party leader Saturday as its candidate for prime minister, a move that analysts and some party insiders said could pave the way for Bhutto’s widower to seek the job in a few months.

Yousuf Raza Gillani, a former assembly speaker who spent more than four years in jail under President Pervez Musharraf, eclipsed Bhutto’s deputy, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who had been seen as the front-runner.

Parliament is to vote on Gillani’s confirmation Monday. The coalition led by Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party easily has the votes to push the nomination through.

Analysts said the choice of a lower-key party figure such as Gillani could prefigure a bid by Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, to become prime minister at a later date. In order to qualify, Zardari first would have to win a parliamentary by-election for a vacant assembly seat.

Zardari took over as party leader following Bhutto’s December assassination and serves as a sort of regent to their 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who was named co-leader.

Fahim, Bhutto’s deputy, had lost some favor because of a perceived willingness to make some accommodation with Musharraf. Before Bhutto’s death, her party had weighed an alliance with the general, but the new coalition led by the PPP wants to curtail his powers drastically.