After almost a decade, Pakistan is due to elect a civilian president on Sept. 6 just three weeks after Pervez Musharraf stepped down in the face of mounting pressure from the national parliament as well as four provincial assemblies. The new president, most likely to be Asif Ali Zardari from the Pakistan People’s Party, will have several daunting challenges ahead.
Asif Ali Zardari is likely to become Pakistan's new president at the weekend
Pakistan's presidential election became necessary after unprecedented parliamentary opposition forced Pervez Musharraf to leave the office, which he had occupied for over eight years.
At the moment, the contest involves three candidates -- Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan People’s Party is almost certain of victory. It was the assassination of his wife, the former premier Benazir Bhutto, in December last year that catapulted her him into the driving seat.
Journalist-turned politician Mushahid Hussein and former chief justice of the Supreme Court Saeeduzaman Siddiqi are the other two candidates, who seem to be fighting a lost battle.
Need for non-controversial president
Hussein from the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) indirectly attacked Zardari’s controversial past, hoping this could work in his favour: “This election is extremely important in an era where you need a president who is non-controversial, who unites, and who can bring all pillars of the state together.”
Zardari spent almost a decade in jail for alleged corruption whilst his wife Benazir Bhutto was in power twice during the 1990s but a controversial decree Musharraf issued in October last year practically exonerated him of all charges.
Justice Siddiqi, meanwhile, represents the Pakistan Muslim League (N) of former premier Nawaz Sharif. He fell out with Zardari over the latter's refusal to restore the judges General Musharraf sacked last November.
With the fresh swearing in of some of these judges on Friday evening, Zardari severely dented Siddiqui and Sharif’s insistence on the unconditional restoration of the sacked judges.
External threats are a huge challenge
Apart from the judges' issue, fending off internal and external threats to Pakistan represents a big challenge, said Siddiqui: “Pakistan’s sovereignty is being challenged -- every day you hear that US forces are intruding into Pakistan, killing Pakistan.”
A sensational raid by American marines into the Pakistani tribal area of Waziristan early on Wednesday also annoyed several members of parliament from the tribal areas and cut into support for Mr Zardari.
One influential lawmaker, Munir Khan Orakzai, said he and his supporters would not vote for Zardari because his party had not stopped military operations in the areas bordering Afghanistan.
Orakzai said the ruling Peoples Party had promised to take them into their confidence over the military activities in the border regions but had not kept its word.
Besides the public outrage over Pakistani and American military operations in the border areas, the new president will also face the task of salvaging an economy that is hit by fast depleting foreign exchange reserves, food and fuel inflation and is suffering from a 5000 mw shortfall in electricity.