Asif Ali Zardari elected as President of Pakistan
By JANE PERLEZ and SALMAN MASOOD
September 7, 2008: New York Times
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a controversial politician with little experience in governing, was elected president of Pakistan on Saturday.
Results from voting in the two houses of Parliament, and three of four provincial assemblies, showed that Mr. Zardari had easily prevailed over his closest competitor.
The results were announced by the chief election commissioner, Qazi Muhammed Farooq. The votes from a fourth provincial assembly remained to be counted.
Mr. Zardari, 53, who spent 11 years in jail on corruption charges that were not proven, succeeds Pervez Musharraf, who resigned as president last month under the threat of impeachment.
After the vote, Mr. Zardari, dressed in a white jacket over the traditional Pakistani attire, known as a shalwar kameez, spoke briefly on the lawn of the prime minister's residence where he and top officials of the Pakistan People's Party were holding a break-the-fast meal that is held each night during Ramadan.
Mr. Zardari, flanked by his two teenage daughters, Bakhtawar and Asifa, said he would uphold the democratic philosophy of his slain wife, Ms. Bhutto. "Parliament will be sovereign," he said. "This president shall be subservient to the Parliament."
The elevation of Mr. Zardari to the presidency, where he will have great powers, including the ability to dissolve Parliament and name the head of the Pakistani Army, comes with the tacit approval of the United States.
Mr. Zardari has promised a tougher fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists ensconced in the nation's tribal areas, from which they mount assaults on American and NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan.
His election coincides with a stepped-up effort by the United States to root out the Taliban and Al Qaeda from the tribal areas. American commandos mounted a raid into South Waziristan on Wednesday against Taliban forces, the first of what United States military officials said could be a continuing campaign.
After Ms. Bhutto's assassination, Mr. Zardari assumed the leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party, the biggest in Pakistan. He led the party to victory in a parliamentary election Feb. 18 and formed a coalition with Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the second-largest party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
That coalition collapsed last month amid recriminations over the reinstatement of some 60 judges who had been fired by President Musharraf when he imposed emergency rule last November.
The unofficial final vote count was 479 votes for Mr. Zardari, 153 votes for Saeeduz Zaman Siddiquia, a former judge nominated by Mr. Sharif, and 43 for Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a senior official of the party that backed Mr. Musharraf. The electoral college consisted of the two chambers of the national parliament and four provincial assemblies.
The minister of information, Sherry Rehman, who is a senior member of the Pakistan Peoples Party, said the relationship between the presidency and the Parliament would be better balanced under Mr. Zardari, resulting in a "new era of democratic stability."
"Today, every Pakistani can raise his head with pride," Rehman said.
Mr. Zardari's aides have promised that as president, Mr. Zardari would agree to the elimination of the constitutional provision that allows the president to dismiss the parliament, a move intended to strengthen the Pakistani parliament, long considered a weak institution.
But there was considerable skepticism expressed among politicians and in the media that Mr. Zardari would indeed agree to this diminution of power.
An editorial Saturday in Dawn, a daily national newspaper, said it hoped that "his commitment to make himself a titular head of state will not waver."
The general population looked on the presidential vote with considerable indifference, a sharp contrast to the excitement during the political campaign leading up the parliamentary elections.
In the Aabpara market in Islamabad, storekeepers preferred to talk about the high cost of electricity and food than about their attitudes toward Mr. Zardari, whose victory was a foregone conclusion.
Several men reflected the official policy of the Pakistan Peoples Party, saying it was good for Pakistan to have a president and a prime minister from the same political party. "He can be a good president because the whole party is behind him," said Malik Zahoor, 50, who rents catering equipment.
Some vendors said they believed that Mr. Zardari's corruption charges, though not proven, made him unsuitable for the presidency. "He's a certified thief," said Akhlaq Abbasi, 60, the owner of a fabric and tailoring shop. "He has looted all the money of Pakistan. How can people like such thieves?"
A survey by Gallup Pakistan showed a lack of enthusiasm for the presidential candidates, with 44 percent of the respondents saying that they did not approve of any of the candidates.
Mr. Zardari received a 26 percent approval rating in the poll, compared with 18 percent for Mr. Siddiqui, the candidate of the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
Gallup said that the nationwide survey was taken Aug. 31 and Sept 1 among approximately 2,000 men and women. There was a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points, Gallup said.
On Friday, three justices of the Supreme Court who were among 12 judges who refused to take the oath of office after President Musharraf fired the entire court last November were reinstated.
"Unfortunately, the principled decision the judges took on Nov. 3 has been broken," said Athar Minallah, a leader of the lawyers' movement that has campaigned for the restoration of all the dismissed judges, including the chief justice, Mohammad Iftikhar Chaudhry.
Mr. Chaudhry, who was at the center of the political fight for the last five months between Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif, had been offered a place on the bench as a justice but not as the chief justice by the Pakistan Peoples Party, Mr. Minallah said. Mr. Chaudhry would refuse to return to the bench in any other position than chief justice, Mr. Minallah said.
ANALYSIS: Zardari’s balancing act — Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi - Daily Times