India-born Mamnoon Hussain, a close aide of Prime Minister Nawqaz Sharif, was today elected as the 12 th President of Pakistan and will replace the incumbent, Asif Ali Zardari, in September.
Mr. Hussain emerged as a clear winner in the one-sided contest with former judge Wajihuddin Ahmad of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party, State media reported.
Pakistan People’s Party withdrew its candidate, Raza Rabbani, and boycotted the election held on Tuesday in protest against the change in the date of polling.
The polling started at 10 a.m. amidst tight security arrangements.
Born in the historic city of Agra, Mr. Hussain, who belongs to the Urdu-speaking ethnic group that migrated from India during partition in 1947, was the candidate of the ruling PML-N.
Over 1,000 members of the national Parliament and four provincial assemblies cast their ballots for the largely ceremonial head of the state.
The office of the President is ceremonial in Pakistan, but he is still the Constitutional chief of the armed forces but cannot order deployments.
He also appoints the services chiefs at the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
Pakistan has so far had 11 Presidents, out of which five were military generals. Four of them illegally got powers through coups, whereas the first President, Major Sikandar Mirza was elected in 1956 after the first Constitution was adopted.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will remain the most powerful figure in the civilian government in Pakistan, a key ally for the United States in battling Islamic militants and negotiating an end to the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Controversy broke out last week when the Supreme Court agreed to a request by the PML-N to move forward the election originally scheduled for August 6 because some lawmakers wanted to travel to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage during the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The country’s former ruling party, the Pakistan People’s Party, which has the second highest number of seats in the National Assembly, announced that it would boycott the Presidential election in response to the court’s ruling. The PPP complained that the judges ruled without hearing from the Opposition, and the new election date didn’t give the party enough time to campaign.
The court’s decision sparked criticism from outside the party as well from observers who have long warned about the Supreme Court’s tendency to overreach. They argued that the decision about the election date should have been left to the country’s election commission, which originally scheduled the vote for August 6.
The party’s decision to boycott could affect the perceived legitimacy of the election, although Mr. Hussain was still expected to win even if the PPP fielded a candidate. Mr. Hussain's opponent, Wajihuddin Ahmed, is a retired Sindh High Court judge nominated by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party led by former cricket star Imran Khan.
Mr. Hussain will replace Asif Ali Zardari, whose five-year term ends on September 8. Mr. Zardari rose to power after his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was killed in a gun and bomb attack in December 2007.
Mr. Zardari has been a contentious figure as President and has often battled with both the powerful army and the Supreme Court.
But Mr. Zardari’s Government is widely perceived to have done little to address the major problems facing the country, especially the pervasive electricity shortages that crippled Pakistan’s economy and left some people without power for up to 20 hours per day.
“Zardari will be remembered as a quite a controversial President, but a major survivor,” said Mr. Rizvi.
The army launched major operations against the Pakistani Taliban during Mr. Zardari’s tenure, but the group has proven resilient and continues to stage frequent attacks against security personnel and civilians.