ISLAMABAD - Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) will field its own candidate, if the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) persisted with the nomination of Sheikh Rashid Ahmed for the vacant position of the prime minister, top party leaders said.

A senior PPP leader, who remained in contact with both Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Asif Ali Zardari over the weekend, told The Nation, that the leadership would never allow the party lawmakers to vote for Sheikh Rashid.

“It is strange that a party is expecting us to vote for Sheikh Rashid. This will never happen. We have the option to field our own candidate too,” the PPP leader said.

The PTI had announced that it will support Sh Rashid as the candidate for next prime minister.

On Sunday, PPP’s opposition leader Khurshid Shah called a meeting of opposition parties for today (July 31st) to decide a joint candidate of the opposition parties.

Senator Farhatullah Babar, another senior PPP leader, told The Nation, the party would not even consider the name of Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.

“There will be a meeting tomorrow (July 31) on the issue but we will of course discuss acceptable candidates,” he said.

Babar said that although the opposition was not expected to win the PM’s elections, the candidate should still be acceptable to all the parties.

“Bilawal [who flew to Islamabad Sunday] is consulting the party leaders on this and our choice for the PM’s slot will be put before the other parties. They can also have their own candidates. The issue will be discussed to evolve consensus,” he added.

President Mamnoon Hussain has summoned a session of National Assembly on August 1 (tomorrow) to elect a new leader of the house to replace Nawaz Sharif.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has nominated former petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for the PM’s slot.

Abbasi will hold the office until Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif is elected as a full-time prime minister after becoming a member of the National Assembly in around two months.

On Sunday, PPP chief Bilawal said that Nawaz Sharif’s removal was no threat to democracy.

Speaking at a function in Larkana, the PPP leader said that Sharif’s removal by the Supreme Court was in line with the law.

He stressed the need “to address the ailment not the symptom”.

Earlier, Khurshid Shah said that the PML-N had proven that no one among the party lawmakers was eligible for premiership and they had to bring a member of the provincial assembly to the top slot.

He said articles 62, 63 had been included in the constitution by military ruler General Ziaul Haq, who ruled from 1977 to 1988.

“The law introduced by General Ziaul Haq was used against his sons,” Shah said, referring to Nawaz Sharif’s and his family’s links with the former dictator.

Shah said that he was in contact with the leaders of the opposition parties to field a consensus candidate for the office of the prime minister.

The PPP veteran met PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Qaumi Watan Party chief Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao and Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam) leader Chaudhry Pervez Elahi to discuss the proposals.

Sherpao is unhappy with the PTI and is threatening to vote for Abbasi instead of the opposition’s candidate.

Sources said that the PPP would field Khurshid Shah or any other lawmaker for the PM’s slot if a consensus was not reached on a joint candidate.

“Khurshid Shah is the main contender but we can also nominate someone else. Shah will remain the opposition leader in any case,” said a PPP leader.

ZARDARI TERMS AJK PM’S STATEMENT ‘UNACCEPTABLE’

Meanwhile, on Sunday, former president Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemned the statement of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider in which he reportedly said that after the Supreme Court disqualifying Nawaz Sharif from holding public office the Kashmiris would seriously rethink whether they wished to join Pakistan or India.

Haider made the controversial remarks, while addressing a news conference along with Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Hafiz Hafeezur Rehman here the other day.

In a statement, the former president condemned the remarks of the AJK premier as “atrocious and insulting to the decades-long freedom struggle of the Kashmiris and their right to self determination promised to them by the UN.”

He added: “How can the UN resolutions and the inalienable right of Kashmiris to self determination be bartered away with the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif by a judicial process.”

Terming the remarks as “totally unacceptable”, Zardari also demanded of the AJK prime minister to retract his statement and apologise to the people of Kashmir.

Later, on Sunday, Haider clarified that his statement was misunderstood. “My life and death is for Pakistan. We cannot even think of betraying Pakistan.”

 Meanwhile, PPP leader Saeed Ghani on Sunday said that Bilawal had advised the PML-N to strengthen the parliament but the ruling elite refused to listen to the advice.

“People have not forgotten telephonic conversation by Shehbaz Sharif who had asked judges to give maximum punishment to Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari for the crime they had never committed,” Ghani said in a statement.

He said that it was “divine justice” that Nawaz Sharif had been disqualified for life from holding public office.