Raja Pervez Ashraf new PM of Pakistan

MPs elected Raja Pervez Ashraf as Pakistan's new prime minister Friday, in a bid to end a crisis sparked by judges ousting the premier and demanding the arrest of his would-be successor.

The national assembly rubber stamped Ashraf's appointment by 211 votes in the 342-member lower house of parliament, dominated by the main ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and its fractious coalition members.

"Raja Pervez Ashraf is declared to be elected as prime minister of the Islamic republic of Pakistan," speaker Fehmida Mirza announced.

President Asif Ali Zardari will now hope that Ashraf can form a cabinet able to see through the government's five-year term in office, due to expire in February 2013, without the need for early elections.

Raja Pervez Ashraf
Raja Pervez Ashraf is the new Pakistan PM. Pic/AFP

But Ashraf is a controversial choice. Currently fighting a corruption case from his tenure as water and power minister, he has also been blamed for much of the government's inability to resolve a disastrous energy crisis.

The change in premier is likely to ease little of Pakistan's myriad problems, not least appalling power cuts that enrage millions or a stalemate in US relations that have led to a seven-month blockade on NATO supplies into Afghanistan.

Ashraf will also come under immediate pressure from the Supreme Court to write to Swiss authorities, asking them to reopen investigations into Zardari.

The Pakistan People's Party government, dogged by corruption allegations, has been locked in a stand-off with the judiciary for years, accused of working behind the scenes with the military and the political opposition.

Its culmination came on Tuesday when the Supreme Court unceremoniously evicted Yousuf Raza Gilani from the prime minister's office after convicting him of contempt for refusing to reopen Swiss corruption cases against Zardari.

Two days later an anti-narcotics court ordered the arrest of Makhdoom Shahabuddin, Zardari's nomination to replace Gilani, over a drugs scandal.

The PPP dropped Shahabuddin. Analysts suggested the arrest warrant had been engineered by the military, the chief arbiter of power.

Ashraf has promised to make the power crisis his priority despite being widely criticised for incompetency when power minister from March 2008 to February 2011.

"I hope soon we will find a solution," he told reporters Friday.

But the question now remains when the next general election will be held.

"If we have committed some mistakes or did not fulfill our manifesto, then the decision should be left to the people of Pakistan," senior PPP official Syed Khurshid Shah conceded.  

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