ISLAMABAD – In a bid to end a new political crisis, Pakistani parliament elected on Friday, June 22, Raja Pervez Ashraf as the new prime minister after the incumbent was disqualified by the Supreme Court.
“Raja Pervez Ashraf is declared to be elected as prime minister of the Islamic republic of Pakistan,” speaker Fehmida Mirza announced, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
Ashraf was elected in a bid to end a crisis sparked by judges ousting former premier Yusuf Raza Gilani and demanding the arrest of his would-be successor.
Gilani was ruled ineligible for refusing to reopen corruption cases against the president, plunging the country into a new political crisis.
The ruling Pakistan People's Party had previously nominated the textiles minister to replace Gilani.
But an anti-narcotics court issued an arrest warrant for him, undermining his bid, in a move analysts said may have been orchestrated by the military.
In his first speech to parliament shortly after the announcement, Ashraf, 61, called on Pakistani Taliban militants to lay down their arms.
“The irresponsible behavior of religious extremist has ruined Islam and Pakistan,” he said.
“I, as prime minister of Pakistan, appealed them to lay down arms and join the mainstream of life.”
Gilani is the first serving prime minister in Pakistan's history to be convicted by a court.
Under Pakistan’s constitution, anyone convicted of defaming or ridiculing the judiciary is barred from being an MP.
Members of his government have accused judges of over-stepping their reach and of trying to bring down Gilani and Zardari before February 2013, when the administration would become the first in Pakistan to complete a full five-year term.
Though the ruling is a big blow to the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), it is unlikely to lead to the fall of the unpopular government.
The PPP and its coalition partners have the numbers in parliament to elect a new prime minister until the government's term ends early next year when a general election is due.
Adding to the political turmoil in Pakistan, the change in premier is unlikely to ease little of the country's myriad problems.
“Ashraf would be the wrath of God on the nation,” said Muhammad Rizwan, an unemployed middle-aged man standing in the heat outside his home in the eastern city of Lahore.
As water and power minister, he was seen by many Pakistanis as someone who had failed to ease a crippling energy crisis, which sporadically triggers violent protests.
“There will be a serious crisis in every sector after he becomes prime minister,” Rizwan added.
His appointment comes as Pakistan’s stability is on stake since the start of the US-led war on Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Pakistan also faces tensions on the diplomatic front as the country's longstanding alliance with the United States has been at their lowest point in years.
Ties between Washington and Islamabad have deteriorated since a unilateral US special forces raid that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil last year. That operation humiliated Pakistan's military.
Pakistan has closed supply routes to NATO forces in Afghanistan following a cross-border strike that killed two dozen of its soldiers last year.
Islamabad is seen as critical to US efforts to pacify Afghanistan after more than a decade of war against the Taliban.
Ashraf, who faced allegations of corruption during his term as water and power minister, is unlikely to boost the confidence of Pakistanis in their government.
“Things will change but for the worse,” said Shoaib Ahmed, 30, a scientist at an Islamabad oil company.
“That's what happens when you replace a moderately corrupt person with a very corrupt person.”
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