Pak Crisis: SC orders PM’s arrest

Polls Will Be Held On Time: EC


Islamabad, Jan 15: Pakistan today plunged into a fresh political crisis with the Supreme Court ordering the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for allegedly receiving bribes in power projects.
Already rocked by fiery cleric Tahirul Qadri’s ongoing protest seeking dissolution of provincial and national assemblies, Pakistan appeared headed for uncertainty with the court setting a 24-hour deadline for authorities to implement its arrest orders that may cost a second Prime Minister to lose office in less than a year.
62-year-old Ashraf, who became Prime Minister after the exit of Yousuf Raza Gilani in June last year, has been accused of receiving kickbacks and commission in the Rental Power Projects (RPPs) case as federal minister for water and power.
Gilani had to quit in the midst of a raging battle with the Supreme Court over his refusal to write to Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari there. After Ashraf assumed power, the government wrote to Swiss authorities.
It is not clear as to what will be the political fallout of the Supreme Court’s order against Ashraf as this is probably the first case of an incumbent Prime Minister being ordered to be arrested in a corruption case. It remains to be seen whether the ruling PPP will elect a new leader to replace Ashraf.
In March last year, the Supreme Court had declared all contracts signed by the government for “rental power plants” as illegal and directed authorities to take legal action against those responsible for clearing the projects, including Ashraf.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the country’s main anti-corruption agency, had so far refused to act on the court’s directive. During today’s hearing, the bench issued a notice for contempt of court to NAB chief Fasih Bukhari.
Angered by revelations that two officers investigating the corruption in power projects had been transferred, the three-judge apex court bench led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry directed NAB to arrest Ashraf and over 20 other suspects within 24 hours.
The judges were particularly angered by revelations that orders were issued for transferring the two NAB officials on the false ground that the apex court was unhappy with their performance.
Legal experts pointed out that the apex court had ordered the arrest of Ashraf even though he had not been convicted for corruption in the power projects, and this immediately sparked speculation that the judiciary’s action was in some way linked to Qadri’s efforts to remove the government.
Tens of thousands of Qadri’s supporters who gathered at a square near Parliament here erupted in cheers as the cleric announced the apex court had ordered the arrest of Ashraf.
Participants of his ‘long march’ chanted “Long Live Supreme Court” when Qadri informed them of the court’s order.
Addressing his supporters early this morning, Qadri had demanded that the government quit and dissolve the national and provincial assemblies.
Qadri had referred to the President and Prime Minister as the “ex-President and ex-Prime Minister” during his speech at 2.30 am, triggering speculation that he was in league with elements working to remove the government.
Ashraf was Power Minister when contracts were signed for several rental power projects, which were part of the PPP-led government’s strategy to overcome a crippling energy shortage.
Though he was dropped during a Cabinet reshuffle in 2011, Ashraf remained close to President Zardari.
The apex court began investigating the rental power plants in 2009 following a complaint of corruption from PML-Q parliamentarian Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat.
The court had directed the NAB to take action against all government functionaries involved in clearing the power projects, including ministers who held the power portfolio since 2006 and officials of state-run power utilities who derived financial benefits from the contracts.
Ashraf was given the title of ‘Raja Rental’ after he was accused of receiving kickbacks in the rental power projects. He was also accused of buying property in London from money earned through corruption in various scams, local media said.

Against the backdrop of demands by fiery cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri for dissolving Parliament and forming a caretaker government, Pakistan’s Supreme Court and Election Commission today said there should be no delay in holding the next general election scheduled for this year.
At the hearing of a case on electoral reforms by a three-judge bench of the apex court, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary said the next general election -- expected by May -- should be held on time.
During the proceedings, Chaudhary remarked that the actions of any individual were not important and the polls would have to be held on time at any cost.
No compromise would be made regarding the schedule for the polls and the Election Commission should be prepared to conduct them, he said.
Chaudhry said the Election Commission should be prepared to follow any guidelines framed by the government for holding polls. “Holding of elections is the responsibility of the Election Commission and it has to fulfill this obligation.”
In a related development, Chief Election Commissioner Fakharuddin Ibrahim chaired an emergency meeting of the Election Commission in Islamabad.
State-run Radio Pakistan quoted Ibrahim as saying the polls would be “held on time and no delay will be tolerated.”
Pakistan government is to complete its five-year term in mid-March and the elections are expected to be held by May.
Political parties have accused Qadri of acting as a front for the military and security establishment to delay the polls and prolong the term of a caretaker government.

Lastupdate on : Tue, 15 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 15 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 16 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST

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