Pakistan’s PM Says Power Crisis, Law and Order Top Goals

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, who was elected by lawmakers on June 22 to replace ousted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, faces the challenge of curbing electricity outages lasting as long as 18 hours a day that have shut factories and led to violent protests. Photographer: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said solving the power crisis and establishing law and order in the financial capital of Karachi will be his top priorities as he seeks to boost the economy and quell unrest.

“Rather than giving targets, I would rather let the people decide if we’re making progress in these vital areas,” Ashraf told reporters after a visit yesterday to the Karachi mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.

Ashraf, who was elected by lawmakers on June 22 to replace ousted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, faces the challenge of curbing electricity outages lasting as long as 18 hours a day that have shut factories and led to violent protests. Political fighting in Karachi, home to the stock exchange and central bank, has claimed 777 lives in the five months ended May and caused frequent shutdowns in trade and industry.

“He has maximum five to six months before the elections to show some improvements,’ said Sakib Sherani, chief executive office at Macroeconomic Insights in Islamabad. “If he sensibly plays his cards he can at least reduce the time of blackouts for average Pakistani and that should be his only game plan.”

Ashraf reappointed Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and Hina Rabbani Khar as finance and foreign ministers respectively and Syed Naveed Qamar was given the position of defense minister, state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported today. Ashraf appointed 38 ministers to his cabinet on June 22.

The benchmark Karachi Stock Exchange 100 index, which has risen 20 percent this year, fell 0.7 percent to 13,634.42 at 11:19 a.m. local time. The rupee rose 0.1 percent to 94.42 against the U.S. dollar, after losing 5 percent this year.

National Elections

Ashraf, 61, also hinted at cooling the four-year clash between the government and judiciary that has rocked an administration poised to become the first elected Pakistani regime to serve a full five-year term. Elections are due in the year ending June 2013. The new premier also needs to improve ties with the U.S., vital to help stabilize neighboring Afghanistan.

“We don’t want conflict with any institutions,” Ashraf said. “We want good relations with the U.S. and I will follow the outcome the parliament decides on.”

The prime minister may have to pursue corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari or risk meeting the same fate as Gilani, who last week became the nation’s first premier to be removed by a court ruling for failing to open graft cases against the president, who also heads the ruling party to which Ashraf belongs.

Court Ruling

“My feeling is that the courts are not going to give up and look the other way,” said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a professor of Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. “Until there is some kind of understanding with the Supreme Court, I think things may get uglier in the next few months.”

Ashraf, a member of the National Assembly from Rawalpindi, has served as minister of water and power and information technology since he was elected in 2008. He was the chairman of Social Action Program initiated by slain Benazir Bhutto during her second term as the prime minister.

The Supreme Court in March ruled that the country’s National Accountability Bureau should initiate corruption probe against Ashraf and other officials for violating rules while granting licenses to private electricity companies during his term as minister for power.

Corruption Investigation

Pakistan’s most senior judges convicted Gilani, 60, of contempt of court on April 26 for failing to act on an earlier order to pursue corruption investigations against Zardari in Swiss courts. Gilani’s lawyers failed to convince judges that the constitution grants the president immunity from prosecution while in office.

Zardari issued an ordinance late yesterday validating all decisions taken by Gilani since April 26 to prevent any legal challenges, Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Gilani’s government presented the federal budget for the year starting July 1 on June 1.

Negotiating with political parties to stay on as a civilian president, former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007 decreed an amnesty to halt corruption probes against 8,000 politicians and officials, including Zardari and his wife, Bhutto.

The Supreme Court in 2009 ordered the government to formally ask Swiss authorities to revive cases there against Zardari and Bhutto, who was assassinated at a political rally.

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