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Daily News Analysis

Drama over Pakistani presidential elections

Crescent International

While Pakistanis cannot wait to get rid of Asif Ali Zardari, a venal character who has occupied the presidency since 2008, jockeying for the post among political parties has intensified. Selection of the president is seldom done on the basis of merit; it is based on connections and whose interests you serve that determine the outcome. On July 30 Pakistanis will find out. It is most likely to be Mamnoon Hussain (picture left) of the PML-N.

Washington DC,

July 27, 2013, 16:41 EDT

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) issued the final list of presidential candidates after the deadline for withdrawing nomination papers set for midday on Saturday passed. The ECP announced that Mamnoon Hussain from the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and Justice (retd) Wajihuddin Ahmed from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf will contest the polls for the presidency.

The third candidate, Zafar Iqbal Jhagra of PML-N was a standby for Mamnoon Hussain. Jhagra withdrew his nomination once Hussain’s papers were confirmed.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's five-year term ends in September. According to the constitution, the parliament must elect a new president one month prior to the end of term of the incumbent. Initially, the election date had been set for August 6, but after the Supreme Court intervention, the poll will now be held a week earlier on July 30.

In response to news of the date change, current President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said it will boycott the upcoming Presidential election because it was not given enough time to campaign. Raza Rabbani, who was the PPP candidate, announced the decision on Friday. The Supreme Court agreed to change the date this week in response to concern by the current ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League-N pleading that lawmakers would be on Umrah (lesser pilgrimage) to Saudi Arabia during the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. However, knowing the Sharif family, it is likely a ploy to make sure that the president is someone who has close ties with the Sharif family.

The President is not elected by direct vote. Rather, the various assemblies—National, Provincial and the Senate—vote to elect the president for a five-year term. The ruling party that comes in power, such as Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, has considerable leverage over the selection of the president.

Earlier there was speculation that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif might run for president and make his brother Shahbaz Sharif the Prime Minister. This would leave the important Punjab premiership (currently held by Shahbaz) to someone else. Shahbaz Sharif’s premiership in Punjab has enabled him to build a strong support base in Pakistan’s most populace province. If another Sharif family member occupies it, he may not perform as well as Shahbaz, whose machinations and politicking were largely responsible for Nawaz's victory in the May 11 general elections. There was also speculation that Nawaz may make Sartaj Aziz, a trusted aide from KP, the president.

In short, with the recent elections in Pakistan that brought PML-N to power in a wide sweep (to widespread accusations of fraud and vote rigging), Nawaz Sharif’s political maneuvering with respect to the president’s post is likely to ensure that power in Pakistan will become concentrated in the hands of the oligarchic Sharif family.

The PML-N’s candidate Mamnoon Hussain is a long time trusted ally of the Sharifs. He has stood with the family even during its dark days so he got the nod to contest the presidential poll. It is largely a ceremonial post but carries certain important functions, such as being able to dismiss the prime minister and assemblies if he feels the prime minister is not performing well or is guilty of corruption. He had also served as Sindh governor for six months but it is his loyalty to the Sharif family that won his the slot to contest. He is expected to win on July 30.


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