Strengthening par only way forward: Pak PM

Islamabad: The holding of free and fair elections to strengthen parliament is the only way forward to overcome the challenges facing Pakistan, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has said against the backdrop of a standoff between his government and the judiciary.

"The media and judiciary have become independent and now it is time to give the same status to parliament. I strongly believe that the next general election to be held under a fully independent election commission will strengthen democracy," Ashraf said.

Parliament should be strengthened and the way to do it is to hold free, fair and transparent elections, he said while interacting with journalists at an iftar dinner hosted by him last night.

Without referring to the standoff with the judiciary, the premier said: "Only the people of Pakistan have the right to elect a government, so let them have a government of their own choice".

The premier touched on the need for peaceful coexistence among state institutions. "Be it the army, the judiciary or the government, it is the country we all have to work for and defend," he said.

Ashraf`s remarks came ahead of a crucial hearing in the Supreme Court of the case related the reopening of graft charges against President Asif Ali Zardari in Switzerland.

The court has set August 8 as the deadline for Ashraf to approach the Swiss authorities to revive the corruption cases.

The government has refused to act on the court`s directives, saying Zardari enjoys immunity in Pakistan and abroad.

Ashraf became the premier after Yousuf Raza Gilani was convicted of contempt and disqualified by the apex court for refusing to reopen the graft cases, and legal experts believe the new premier could suffer the same fate.

During his brief speech yesterday, the premier repeatedly referred to the upcoming general election which, he said, is "not far away". He did not say whether the government intended to advance the polls, which are scheduled for March-April next year.

Ashraf said it was a top priority for his government to hold the next election under the best possible circumstances.

The appointment of a new Chief Election Commissioner with an impeccable track record has ensured that nobody can question the transparency of the polls process.

However, Ashraf chose not to speak on the response the government will submit tomorrow when the Supreme Court again takes up the case of the graft charges against the President.

This was Ashraf`s first formal interaction with journalists since he assumed office on June 22.