By Arab News
By Zafar M Sheikh
The Pakistani Parliament elected ruling party member Raja Pervez Ashraf as the new prime minister yesterday, despite corruption allegations and his failure to end the country’s energy crisis — setting in motion what is likely to be a short and turbulent premiership.
The office of the Prime Minister was lying vacant for three days after the Supreme Court disqualified former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on June 19 for refusing to initiate a corruption investigation against his boss, President Asif Ali Zardari.
Ashraf, a minister in the ousted government, was originally put forward as a backup candidate but got the nod after the first choice — Makhdoom Shahabuddin, a minister in Gilani’s Cabinet — was hit with an arrest warrant following his nomination on Thursday. The warrant was issued by an anti-narcotics force run by the military, which wields political power and has staged three coups in Pakistan’s short history.
The national assembly rubber stamped Ashraf’s appointment by 211 votes in the 342-member lower house of Parliament, dominated by the main ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and its fractious coalition members. Political observers see no respite in the government-judiciary tussle. They feel that President Zardari prefers those party leaders for important public offices who are involved in high level corruption cases, including the newly elected Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf who is also facing corruption charges.
He has been accused of corruption relating to power projects. Ashraf oversaw the import of short-term power stations, or “rental power” projects that cost the government millions of dollars but produced little energy. The policy earned him the nickname “Raja Rental” in the Pakistani media. He denies any wrongdoing.
He was ridiculed by the Pakistani public for often claiming that the power crisis would be over soon, only to have conditions getting worse and worse.
“Confrontation is bound to happen as President Zardari has elected a person who has become the symbol of corruption and mismanagement in the country. He was probably chosen to mock the Supreme Court,” said Javed Qureshi, a senior political analyst in the federal capital.