Islamabad: Asif Ali Zardari stepped down as Pakistan’s president and plans to rejuvenate his party after it was voted out of power in May’s general elections.
Mamnoon Hussain of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N replaces Zardari, whose Pakistan Peoples Party’s strength was reduced to a third in parliament in the 11 May polls. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif won a record third term. Zardari’s departure on Sunday was announced by state-run Pakistan Television.
Zardari planned to focus on reorganizing his party after stepping down, the Hindustan Times cited him as saying this month. The Peoples Party led the ruling coalition following a victory in 2008 after its leader and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated at an election rally. Zardari, Bhutto’s widower, took over the party leadership.
The Peoples Party had the worst showing in the election in its history, said Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, chief executive of Pildat, an Islamabad-based research group. The biggest challenge will be to recover from that shock. If Zardari is going to be an active political player, that is very good news for the party.
Zardari became president after former military ruler Pervez Musharraf was forced to resign in 2008. While the constitutional changes in 2010 removed presidential powers amassed by Musharraf to dismiss the prime minister and appoint military leaders, Zardari remained a key player in Pakistani politics as head of the party that led the last ruling coalition.
In spite of leading the first administration to complete its full term in the country’s history, Zardari’s popularity faded amid a slide in the $231 billion economy, with growth falling to an average 3%.
Power cuts as long as 18 hours a day shut factories and terrorism deterred investment. The growth rate was less than half the annual pace of the previous five years.
Ties with the US, Pakistan’s largest aid donor, weakened amid the war on terrorism, and clashes at home with the judiciary-—one over corruption allegations against Zardari in Swiss courts—also distracted him from focusing on domestic issues.
At a 5 September farewell reception, hosted by Sharif, who alternated two terms as prime minister with Bhutto’s Peoples Party in the 1990s, Zardari struck a conciliatory tone. “We are with you prime minister. We will strengthen your government for the next five years”, he said.
The president-elect, Hussain, who was born in the Indian city of Agra prior to the partition of the subcontinent at the end of British colonial rule, is a former governor of Sindh province. He joined the Muslim League in 1969 and runs a textiles business in Karachi, the News daily reported on 26 July , calling him a low profile politician.
Sharif’s victory in 11 May parliamentary polls kicked off a year of transition in Pakistan. General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s three-year term as army chief ends in November, while Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry will complete his period in office in December.