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Shehbaz Sharif to be coalition candidate for next Pakistan PM -spokeswoman

By Asif Shahzad, Ariba Shahid and Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -Former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will be the nominee for Pakistan's next premier to lead a new coalition alliance formed between different parties, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday after national elections last week returned a hung parliament.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) on Tuesday said it would support Sharif's party to form a minority government, ending a stalemate after inconclusive elections in the nuclear-armed nation lead to days of political uncertainty.

A spokesman for Sharif's party, Marriyam Aurangzeb, said in a post on social media site X, formerly Twitter, that Nawaz Sharif, the elder brother of Shehbaz, had nominated him for the post.

Shehbaz Sharif belongs to his brother's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the largest recognised party with 80 seats and PPP is second with 54. Together, the two parties have enough for a simple majority in the 264-seat legislature.

"We have decided that we will form government together to take Pakistan out of crisis," the co-chairman of the PPP, former President Asif Ali Zardari, told a news conference, seated besides Shehbaz Sharif and leaders of other political parties.

Earlier, Zardari's son and fellow PPP leader, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, had laid conditions on backing the Sharif-led coalition, saying they would support them in electing the prime minister but would not join the government.

The conditions to join forces did not bode well for a stable or strong administration in the world's second-largest Muslim country.

However, the alliance has ended uncertainty over government formation for now, five days after the Feb. 8 vote gave a split verdict and sparked worries of fresh instability.

Independent candidates backed by jailed former premier Imran Khan have won 92 seats, making them the largest group, but they cannot form a government on their own, having run as individuals and not a party, and have ruled out alliances with PML-N or PPP.

Bhutto Zardari said Khan's independents and PML-N had more numbers than his party but Khan had ruled out joining forces with the PPP.

The PPP does not want a perpetual economic crisis or a fresh election leading to a political crisis in Pakistan, Bhutto Zardari said.

Bhutto Zardari was keen that his father Asif Ali Zardari be president again. TV channel Geo News also cited PPP sources as saying the party wanted its appointees to take the governor post in all four provinces.

ECONOMIC, POLITICAL CHALLENGES

Shehbaz Sharif welcomed the support from the PPP and other parties and said all the parties had come together because they needed to tackle numerous challenges, particularly the economy.

The country of 241 million people is grappling with an economic crisis amid slow growth and record inflation, along with rising militant violence.

It narrowly averted a sovereign default last summer with a $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund, but the lender's support ends in March, following which a new, extended programme will be needed.

Negotiating a new programme, and at speed, will be critical for the new government.

Analysts had hoped the election would bring a solution to the crises faced by Pakistan, but the split verdict, with a large number of independents at loggerheads with the influential military, could only mean more instability.

The new political alliance has a nearly two third majority in the new parliament, Sharif said, adding that this would lead to more certainty in policy-making.

Khan, a celebrity cricket star-turned-politician, is in jail on charges of corruption and revealing state secrets, and his party was barred from contesting the election, forcing members to run as independents.

Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has alleged that the vote was rigged and vowed to legally challenge some results. The caretaker government and election commission have rejected those accusations.

(Additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Writing by YP Rajesh; editing by Ed Osmond, Bernadette Baum, William Maclean)