Pakistan’s lower house of parliament has elected Raja Pervez Ashraf as the country’s new prime minister, after the Supreme Court disqualified former Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani over contempt charges earlier this week.
Pakistan has a new prime minister. Raja Pervez Ashraf, who served as information technology minister until the Supreme Court dismissed former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday, got the majority of votes in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly.
Ashraf’s appointment comes at a time of intense political crisis in Pakistan.
In a controversial verdict on Tuesday, the Pakistani Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from holding office, following a contempt conviction two months ago.
In April, the court found Gilani guilty in a contempt case after he refused to write a letter to the Swiss government to re-open graft cases against Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, which the Swiss authorities had shelved in 2008. The incumbent PPP government says the cases are ”politically motivated” and cannot be re-opened while Zardari remains head of state and enjoys presidential immunity.
The PPP disputed Tuesday’s decision, saying that the prime minister could only be dismissed by parliament. Despite its reservations against the verdict, the PPP decided to accept the court’s ruling in country’s “best interest.”
Challenges for the new premier
Snehal Shingavi, a Pakistan expert at the University of Texas, Austin, told DW that Ashraf’s appointment as Pakistan’s new prime minister would not resolve the protracted political and institutional crisis in Pakistan and Prime Minister Ashraf would probably meet the same fate as his predecessor.
“The PPP’s strategy is to keep putting up candidates that will get shot down by the judiciary so that it can blame the courts for the political impasse,” Shingavi said.
Shingavi believed that Ashraf had a very tough job ahead. “There are at least three problems he faces: First, the judiciary will demand that he bring charges against Zardari, and the PPP cannot afford to allow that to happen; Second, the opposition parties, Tehreek-e-Insaaf and the Pakistan Muslim League (of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif) are clamoring for new elections; And third, the population is becoming increasingly agitated over the economic crisis the country is still facing.”
He said the bitter feud between judiciary and executive was likely to continue despite the election of new prime minister.
The clash of institutions
Many people in Pakistan view the current predicament as a clash of institutions. Supporters of the PPP are of the view that the judiciary, backed by Pakistan’s ubiquitous army and the ISI, are trying to undermine the supremacy of parliament and civilian democracy.
On Thursday, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, who had been the PPP’s first choice for prime minister, received a big setback when a military-backed anti-narcotics court issued his arrest warrant over a drugs scam.
Some observers say that the warrant against Shahabuddin is politically motivated, and is part of the ongoing tug of war between judiciary and parliament.
“I am certain that the warrant has political motives, otherwise it would have been brought against him sooner. But it is also the case that the PPP is full of political figures that have done illegal things and used their political power to cover those practices. Both the PPP and its enemies use their political resources in very opportunistic ways,” said Shingavi.
Experts have also criticized the Supreme Court for dislodging an elected prime minister and said that Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry was trying to undermine the nascent democratic setup in Pakistan.
Emrys Schoemaker, a communication analyst and researcher at the London School of Economics, told DW that the consequences of Gilani’s removal by the court were “political.”
“The main question is whether the timing of Gilani’s removal was right? Should the courts act in the country’s best interests and get involved in politics, or should they be neutral? It appears that the court is merely dealing with cases in its docket, yet clearly the consequences of its actions are highly political,” Schoemaker said.
Experts say the US is closely observing nuclear-armed Pakistan’s deepening political crisis.
“Pakistan’s history is marred with these kinds of political crises. The international community does not trust us. The regional situation is very complex. The recent political developments in Pakistan cannot be looked at in isolation,” Zaman Khan, a Lahore-based activist, told DW.
Observers are of the view that the current turmoil in Pakistan’s domestic politics is likely to affect Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors and the West, in particular the United States. US-Pakistani ties have been at their nadir since a US air attack on a border post killed 24 Pakistani soldiers late last year; there have been no signs that relations will improve soon.
Author: Shamil Shams Editor: Sarah Berning