Islamabad: Pakistan Peoples Party on Thursday dropped Makhdoom Shahabuddin as its Prime Ministerial candidate and is now backing Raja Parvez Ashraf after a non-bailable arrest warrant was issued against the former textile minister, a media report said.

The PPP dropped Shahabuddin hours after an Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) court in Rawalpindi issued an arrest warrant for him in connection with alleged irregularities in the import of a large amount of the controlled drug Ephedrine during his tenure as Health Minister, Geo News reported.

The channel quoted its sources as saying that Ashraf, who had earlier served as power and information technology minister, would now be the candidate for the post of premier.

A team of the ANF visited Shahabuddin's official residence after the issuance of the warrant, the channel reported.

There was no official word on the development. A meeting of the PPP and its allies in the ruling coalition would be held tonight to discuss the move to replace Shahabuddin with Ashraf for the post of premier.

President Asif Ali Zardari has convened a special session of the National Assembly or lower house of parliament at 5.30 pm tomorrow to elect a new premier after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's disqualification by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Three PPP leaders – Shahabuddin, Ashraf and Qamar Zaman Kaira – on Thursday filed nomination papers for the election of the premier.

Ashraf was projected as a "covering" or alternative candidate of the PPP while Kaira filed his nominations after it emerged that the ANF court had issued a warrant for Shahabuddin.

Judge Shafqatullah Khan of the ANF court directed officials to arrest and present Shahabuddin in his court within a week.

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, allegedly under the influence of former premier Gilani's son Ali Musa Gilani.

The Supreme 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 of contempt.

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 Zardari.

(Agencies)

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