Islamabad: Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, a stalwart of the ruling PPP, was on Friday elected by the National Assembly as Pakistan's new Prime Minister as the country struggled to come out of its latest political crisis.

61-year-old loyalist of the Bhutto family was pitched forked into the hot seat after the original choice Makhdoom Shahbuddin faced an arrest warrant on Thursday. But the new leader himself is dogged by corruption charges relating to his tenure as Power Minister.

The 342-member National Assembly chose Ashraf with 211 votes against opposition PML-N nominee Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan Abbasi who got 89 votes. He will be administered oath of office by President Asif Ali Zardari as the country's 25th Prime Minister.

Ashraf, who belongs to a royal family of Rawalpindi in Punjab, succeeds Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was disqualified by the Supreme Court three days ago following his refusal to pursue graft cases against Zardari with the Swiss government. New Prime Minister is also likely to face similar demands from the apex court.

Ashraf was elected in a two-way contest during a special session of Parliament after three other candidates – Shahabuddin and Qamar Zaman Kaira of the PPP and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman – withdrew from the race.

He was nominated by the party for the post after its original candidate, Shahabuddin, was forced to withdraw as an arrest warrant was issued for him in connection with alleged irregularities in the import of a controlled drug during his tenure as the Health Minister.

Ashraf, who was elected to the National Assembly from Gujar Khan constituency in Rawalpindi district - both in 2002 and 2008 - served twice in the cabinet of Gilani.

He resigned from Gilani's cabinet in February last year after allegations of corruption in power projects. He returned to the cabinet in April this year when he was appointed minister for Information Technology.

Ashraf's candidature was backed by PML-Q, a major ally of the PPP with more than 50 seats in the National Assembly.

The current strength of the National Assembly is 339, following the death of PPP leader Fauzia Wahab, the disqualification of Gilani and the suspension of PPP leader Farahnaz Ispahani on the ground of dual nationality.

The PPP and its allies, which enjoy slightly more than a simple majority in the 342-member National Assembly or lower house of parliament, faced no problems in the election of Ashraf, who held several portfolios in Gilani’s cabinet. The PPP alone has 124 lawmakers while its allies have 58 seats.

The election was conducted by a division of votes after the doors of the House were shut for the polling shortly after 6.30 pm. The session began almost an hour behind schedule as many lawmakers were late in reaching the House.

Shortly before the session began, PPP leaders Shahabuddin and Kaira announced their withdrawal from the election. After the session began, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman said the House should be adjourned after making an obituary reference to Fauzia Wahab, a PPP leader who died recently.

The Speaker turned down his request after PPP leader Naveed Qamar said this was not a regular session of the House and had been specially convened to elect a new premier.

Rehman then announced he was withdrawing his candidature and that his party would abstain from voting to remain neutral. The eight members of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam did not vote in the polls.

The election was necessitated because a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry disqualified Gilani on Tuesday in response to several petitions that had challenged the National Assembly Speaker's decision not to disqualify the premier following his conviction of contempt.

The Apex Court ruled that the post of premier had been vacant since April 26, when another seven-judge bench had convicted Gilani of contempt for refusing to reopen graft cases in Switzerland against Zardari.


(Agencies)

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