ISLAMABAD - After a week of political chaos, backchannel contacts, palatial intrigues and covert deals, lady luck finally smiled on Raja Pervez Ashraf on Friday as the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) got him elected from the Lower House of parliament as the 25th prime minister of the country.
Ashraf was the covering candidate for Makhdoom Shahabuddin, but the issue of non-bailable arrest warrants against Shahabuddin and strong resistance by the Chaudhrys of Gujrat against Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar and Qamar Zaman Kaira paved the way for Ashraf.
Once a regular visitor to the Prime Minister’s House as a mere MNA, Ashraf finally made it to the grand palace meant for chief executive of the country. This is no doubt an achievement which an average parliamentarian like Ashraf could have only dreamed of.
Raja secured 211 votes while his opponent, Sardar Mehtab Khan Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, bagged 89.
During the daylong activities, the coalition parties made all out efforts to convince Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl chief Fazlur Rehman, succeeding at the eleventh hour with Fazl withdrawing his candidature and announcing that his party would abstain from the election process.
“Raja Pervez Ashraf has got 211 votes while Sardar Mehtab Abbasi has got 89 votes. So, Raja Pervez Ashraf is declared to be elected as the prime minister of Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” said National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza who presided over the session.
Ashraf was one of the three candidates the PPP had fielded to contest for the coveted prime ministerial slot. However, Makhdoom Shahabuddin and Qamar Zaman Kaira had withdrawn their nominations before the session started.
Born on December 26, 1950 in Sanghar, Sindh, Ashraf served as the minister for water and power from 2008-2011, and later was made minister for information technology.
He has been held responsible for load shedding dilemma the country has been facing since 2008 and has also been questioned by the apex court in the infamous Rental Power Projects (RPPs) scam.
When the NA session started, around 310 members were present in the House, but only 300 took part in electoral process while 10 members from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) abstained from voting.
Absentees: Four NA seats are lying vacant, including those of Yousaf Raza Gilani, Fauzia Wahab, Farahnaz Isphahani and one member from FATA. Five PML-N members remained absent from the election process, including Khwaja Mohammad Asif, Raja Safdar, Anushey Rehman Khan and Rashid Akbar Niwani.
Around eight members of the PML-Q were also absent, including six members of the PML-Q Likeminded, including Arbab Zakaullah, Ghulam Hyder Samijo, Kashmala Tariq and Kishan Chand Perwani.
Moreover, ANP chief Asfandyar Wali was also not present due to his ill health.
Summersault by Faisal: Interestingly, PML-Q Parliamentary Leader in National Assembly Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat announced on Thursday that he would not vote for Ashraf as he was a petitioner in the RPPs case and had leveled serious allegations against Ashraf, but he ate his own words when he voted for Ashraf, raising serious questions about his “word”.
Sloganeering: With the announcement of election results, the coalition MPs resorted to desk-thumping while the PPP workers raised slogans of ‘Jiye Bhutto’ from lobbies and galleries.
As the proceedings started, Ashraf headed towards Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and shook his hand. After his election as the PM, Ashraf moved to the runner-up candidate Sardar Mehtab Abbasi and shook his hand as well.
New promises: After his election, PM-elect Ashraf assured the opposition that transparent election would be one of the top priorities of his government, while reconciliation would remain his manifesto.
“Parliament is the last hope for the people of Pakistan. The country can’t afford politics of confrontation. I invite the opposition for holding meaningful dialogue to jointly resolve all challenges faced by the country today. I hope they would accept my offer,” remarked Ashraf.
He also assured taking steps for the supremacy of parliament, strengthening of democracy and free, fair and transparent elections.
“Some undemocratic minds try to belittle democracy and the people of Pakistan. This is an irresponsible thinking that the country can be run against the aspirations of the people,” he said referring to the disqualification of his predecessor Gilani.
He spoke highly of Gilani for rendering services to strengthen democracy and supremacy of parliament.
He also praised the services rendered by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto.
“We are at a critical juncture of history that entrusts on political forces to manifest sagacity, unity and collaboration to take forward the democratic process,” he said.
He said religious extremists had inflicted heavy loss to the country as well as the religion of Islam and appealed to those fighting against the state to surrender their weapons and join the mainstream for the progress of the country.
“We do not hold institutions responsible for the mistakes of individuals. We shall not let the institutions confront each other.”
Ashraf said Pakistan desired peaceful relations with all neighboring countries - Iran, Afghanistan and India – and wanted peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues including the Kashmir issue, through dialogue.
Consolidating Pakistan’s relations with European Union and having relations with United States and other world nations on “equal footings” to promote peace and stability in our region and in the world, Raja said it would be his priority.
He said to meet the challenges and put in place a system based on good-governance as the country direly needed impartial and powerful accountability system.
“Accountability is a must for good governance and elimination of corruption. Therefore, I seek cooperation of the opposition parties to deliberate on pending Accountability Bill and bring it to the House to give country an effective accountability law,” he said.
“I am a human being. I can commit mistake. But, I promise that the office presented to me is the chair of martyrs and I pledge to work to my full capacity and capability to promote good governance for strengthening the country and the welfare of our people.”
Mehtab seeks fresh polls: Runner-up candidate Sardar Mehtab Abbasi demanded the government to implement courts’ verdicts, take measures to hold fresh and transparent polls and promulgate a unanimous accountability law.
In his speech, Abbasi said accountability law was pending with a parliamentary committee for last four years and needed to be finalized through evolving consensus among all parties.
“There should be no ‘holy cows’ and all should be held accountable. We are never and would be never a part of any conspiracy,” he said, adding that the PML-N members wanted to give their input to make law comprehensive and flawless so that it may nab all corrupt elements, asking the government to expedite promulgation of the law. He said the PML-N contested the election just to differentiate the politicians striving for people’s welfare from those supporting the ruling benches.
He criticized the poor performance of Raja Pervez Ashraf as the water and power minister and said the country was faced with a severe power crisis that had deteriorated the country’s industrial growth and swelled the unemployment. “Mr Prime Minister, you and no one else, is responsible for this chaotic situation,” he said.
Abbassi said the country was in dire need of national solidarity but unfortunately during the last four-and-a-half years, the government could not come to people’s aspirations by ending bad-governance and corruption.
He said the confrontation among institutions had increased and targeted killings in Karachi and Balochistan and drone attacks inside Pakistan’s soil were yet uncontrolled.
Abbasi also talked of poor performance of Pakistan Railways, Pakistan Steel Mills besides mentioning the NICL, Punjab Bank and Rental Power Plants scandals.
He said the government should have joined hands with the opposition parties to devise a comprehensive strategy for next general elections.
The PML-N leader said the upcoming election should be fair, transparent as well as honest to the satisfaction of the people as it was only solution to steer country out of all issues.
He questioned why the government could not rid the country of circular debt worth Rs 400 billion that was proving the basic issue behind power crisis.
Later, PPP leader Syed Khursheed Shah said a commission should be formed to probe the power crisis since 1993 to 2008 and from 2008 to 2012 and fix responsibility against those found responsible for the energy crisis.
PM, new cabinet takes oath: Later at night, Ashraf and his cabinet of ministers took oath at a ceremony held at the Presidency. President Asif Zardari administered the oath of office to the newly-elected chief executive of the country. He also administered oath to a 38-member federal cabinet comprising 27 federal ministers and 11 ministers of states.