ISLAMABAD: Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, is set to be elected President in a vote on Saturday that holds no surprises.
Two other candidates in the election make it a three-cornered contest. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which was earlier in an alliance with the PPP but is now in opposition, has put up Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, a former Chief Justice, to underline its commitment to the restoration of judges sacked by the former President, Pervez Musharraf.
Mushahid Hussain Sayed, secretary-general of the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), is the third contender. But barring the completely unforeseen and unexpected, simple arithmetic makes Mr. Zardari the certain winner.
The indirect election is balloted by members of both of Houses of Parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate, and by members of the four provincial Assemblies.
The PPP, by virtue of its performance in the February 18 election, widely considered to be the country’s freest election in more than a decade, is the single-largest party in the National Assembly. It has a majority in the Sindh Assembly, is the single-largest party in Balochistan, the second-largest in the North-West Frontier Province and in the Punjab Assemblies. In addition, Mr. Zardari, who took over the leadership of the party after the December 2007 assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto, has sewn up alliances with several smaller provincial parties, which will go towards guaranteeing his victory. Parliamentarians will cast their votes in a secret ballot at a joint session of the National Assembly and Senate that is to begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
Mr. Zardari’s ascendance to the top office continues to be dogged by controversy over his alleged corrupt ways during Benazir’s two terms in power that earned him the nickname of “Mr. 10 per cent”, one that continues to stick to him even now. In recent days, his mental capacities also came under scrutiny after it emerged that his psychiatrist had told a London court that Mr. Zardari suffered from a range of mental illnesses.
His critics have questioned his candidacy on these grounds, also pointing out that he suffers from a “trust deficit” after his failure to honour written promises made to PML(N) leader Nawaz Sharif on the restoration of the judiciary.
His supporters say the corruption charges against him were never proved, and that reports about his mental illness are a canard.