Sri Lankan PM quits to end political deadlock

In this Nov. 3, 2018 file photo, Sri Lanka's then appointed prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa speaks to members loyal to him at his office in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (AP)
Updated 16 December 2018
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Sri Lankan PM quits to end political deadlock

  • Sri Lanka has had no functioning government for nearly two weeks
  • The country runs the risk of being unable to use state funds from Jan. 1 if there is no government to approve the budget

COLOMBO: Embattled Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on Saturday after calling for general elections to end the political deadlock that has left the country without a functioning government.
Rajapaksa signed his resignation letter surrounded by party supporters at his home in Colombo 7. Clergy from the island’s three major religions chanted verses to bless Rajapaksa following his decision to step down.
“I will resign from the position of prime minister and make way for the president to form a new government,” Rajapaksa said.
Sri Lanka has been in political crisis since October when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and named Rajapaksa as his replacement. The country’s Parliament has twice rejected the appointment.
Rajapaksa, a former president, is considered a war hero by some for defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009 after a long civil war. He lost a 2015 re-election bid after facing allegations of wartime atrocities and corruption.
Rajapaksa’s resignation comes a day after the Supreme Court extended a lower court’s suspension of the prime minister and his Cabinet.
Sri Lanka has had no functioning government for almost two weeks and faces the prospect of being unable to pass a budget for next year.
According to Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, general secretary of the ruling United National Party, former premier Wickremesinghe will return to be sworn in as prime minister on Sunday and form a new Cabinet.
In a speech to party supporters, Rajapaksa said that he had no intention of remaining in power unless a general election was held.
“We are now in direct confrontation with a group of political parties that has engaged in various subterfuges to avoid facing elections,” he said.
“What we are confronted with is an attempt to rule the country without holding any kind of election. We cannot implement any of the measures we had planned to prevent this country from becoming another Greece.”
The UNP government has taken out $20.7 billion in foreign currency loans over the past four years, but the political deadlock leaves questions about how the borrowing will be repaid.
Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka’s people would one day “definitely get the change they desire.”
Seyed Ali Zahir Moulana, a legislator and former diplomat in the US, welcomed Rajapaksa’s resignation. “It proves that democracy is still alive in Sri Lanka,” he said.
Rajapaksa’s appointment had plunged the country into chaos, he said.
“Violence was seen erupting in the temple of democracy, the Parliament of Sri Lanka, and its members were seen stooping to the lowest levels of conduct ... to disrupt and agitate,” the analyst said.
However, despite a barrage of attacks on the constitutional principles of the state, the judiciary and legislature had stayed resilient and independent. “If there was anything deserving of praise in the past seven weeks, it is the harmonious functioning of these institutions,” he said.
Azath Salley, a political commentator and leader of the National Unity Alliance, said that Rajapaksa’s resignation had ended the “ordeal of the people.”


Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

Updated 19 July 2019
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Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

  • Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds
  • Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was remanded in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for 13 days, a day after he was arrested in a case involving a multibillion-rupee liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract to Qatar.
Abbasi, who is also the vice president of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) party, was presented before Judge Bashir Ahmed of an accountability court on Friday morning. The case has been adjourned until Aug. 1.
Speaking to journalists before his appearance at the court, Abbasi called his arrest “an attack on democracy.”
Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds in the import of LNG that the agency says caused a loss of about $2 billion to the national exchequer. He is also being investigated for allegedly granting a 15-year contract for an LNG terminal to a “favored” company. Abbasi rejects the allegations.
PML-N Sen. Mushahid Ullah Khan said Pakistan was facing “the worst energy crisis of its kind” when his party came to power after the 2013 general election, and the LNG deal was quickly finalized with Qatar to overcome it.
“The industry was shutting down with thousands of people getting unemployed, but this LNG supply helped us reverse the tide,” he told Arab News.
Khan said Pakistan’s LNG contract with Qatar was “the cheapest possible deal” the country could have gotten, and rubbished allegations of corruption and kickbacks.
“If there is something wrong in the contract, why is this government not reviewing it?” Khan asked.
Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar under a 15-year agreement at 13.37 percent of Brent crude price. It is a government-to-government agreement and the price can only be reviewed after 10 years of the contract.
“It is the worst example of political victimization by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government,” PML-N Chairman Raja Zafrul Haq said on Friday after the accountability court remanded Abbasi in NAB custody. “Shahid Khaqan served the nation with dignity and did not commit any wrongdoings,” Haq added.
Abbasi was arrested on his way to Lahore to address a news conference along with PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday.
He served as federal minister for petroleum in the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he finalized an LNG import deal with Qatar. Abbasi then served for less than a year as prime minister following the resignation of Sharif in 2017.
On Thursday, Pakistan opened technical bids of four international companies for the supply of 400 million cubic feet per day of LNG for a period of 10 years to fulfil the country’s rising energy requirements.
Officials told Arab News that a Qatari delegation, led by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in June, resented that Islamabad had ignored its lowest offer of 11.05 percent of Brent for the fresh deal, and instead floated tenders seeking provision of LNG for 10 years from international companies.
The secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Energy said: “Yes, this is true. Qatar expressed its annoyance, but we are following our rules. Qatar has not submitted its bid to participate in the process.”
Khan won power last year vowing to root out corruption among what he describes as a venal political elite, and views the probes into veteran politicians — including Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari — as long overdue.
The NAB’s campaign has become a topic of fierce political debate in Pakistan, and its focus on the new government’s political foes has prompted accusations of a one-sided purge. The government denies targeting political opponents.
Commenting on Abbasi’s case, former NAB prosecutor Munir Sadiq said the anti-corruption watchdog would file a reference against Abbasi in an accountability court for prosecution, but only if it found irrefutable evidence against him.
“This case is now at the evidence-collection stage, and the NAB will file a reference in the court if it finds irrefutable corruption evidence against Abbasi during the investigation,” Sadiq said.
He added that any inquiry against Abbasi would be shelved after 90 days if corroborating evidence of corruption was not found.
“If a weak case will be filed against the accused, then he will surely receive support from the court,” Sadiq said.