Pakistani legislators elected a new president on Tuesday, in what is being seen as a key development in the country’s democratic process.
Mamnoon Hussain, a leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was elected president with a comfortable majority.
The outgoing president, Asif Ali Zardari, will end his term on Sept. 8, marking the first time in Pakistan’s history that a democratically elected president has officially completed five years in power. In May, Prime Minister Sharif’s party swept the parliamentary elections in a historic transfer of power from one civilian government to the next.
“Pakistan’s democratic consolidation continues as a new civilian president has been elected by the electoral college,” says political commentator Raza Rumi. “Having said that, the inherent fissures within the political elite have also come to light during this process as the major opposition party – the Pakistan People's Party – did not participate in the elections. That raises a question on the legitimacy of the process.”
The run-up to the election was marred with controversy. The influential Pakistan People's Party as well as the Awami National Party both boycotted the vote. The parties’ bone of contention was that the election – earlier set by the Election Commission for Aug. 6 – was moved to July 30, after the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz petitioned the Supreme Court to have the schedule changed. The Pakistan People's Party has said it was not consulted in the process. And the head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, said earlier this week that his party was only participating “under protest.”
In any case, Hussain was projected to win the election given that his party had the majority of votes needed in the national and provincial assemblies.
Hussain, a Karachi-based businessman, has earlier served as the governor of the Sindh Province. An seemingly earnest, affable man and a party loyalist, Hussain’s nomination aimed to provide some representation to smaller provinces at the highest levels of government.
“It’s a very deliberate choice to nominate a Karachiite as a presidential candidate, because the Sharif government had been severely criticized for giving the most important posts to legislators from the largest province, Punjab. A balance had to be effected,” says Mr. Rumi. “The other significance of Mamnoon Hussain’s nomination is the inclusion of Karachi’s citizens in the governance process, given Karachi’s economic importance and that the fact that the business lobbies support the Sharif government.”
Hussain will take oath in September. He is unlikely to play a leading role, as the president is largely a figurehead in Pakistan. Constitutional amendments made during President Zardari’s tenure transferred most powers from the president to the prime minister.