ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Mamnoon Hussain, a veteran Pakistani politician and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s trusted ally, was elected president on Tuesday in a vote by legislators for the largely ceremonial post of head of state.
Hussain, 73, will be sworn in on September 9 at the presidential palace due to be vacated by incumbent Asif Ali Zardari, who is stepping down at the end of his five-year term.
Ousted in a bloodless coup in 1999, Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party swept back into power in a May vote that marked the first transition between civilian governments in a country ruled by the military for more than half its history.
The new president was elected by an electoral college made up of members of the two houses of parliament and assemblies in Pakistan’s four provinces.
Given its dominance in parliament, the PML-N was guaranteed a walkover even before the main opposition party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), announced it was boycotting the vote to protest against a change in the election schedule.
Hussain won easily in the provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan and got 41 out of 110 votes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He won 277 out of 311 votes in the upper and lower houses of parliament, emerging as the clear winner.
Hussain, who will be president for five years, resigned his membership of the PML-N soon after the election results were announced, in what is seen as a symbolic move to establish himself as a non-partisan president.
Hussain has been an active member of the PML-N since the 1960s. He was governor of the southern province of Sindh from June to October 1999 when Sharif’s government was overthrown by the then army commander, General Pervez Musharraf.
Traditionally, presidents have been figureheads in Pakistan although Musharraf wielded extensive powers when he held the post. Under Zardari, the presidency was largely stripped of powers though he enjoyed considerable influence in the previous administration.
The party Zardari heads, the PPP, was elected in 2008 on the back of a sympathy vote after his wife, the popular ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated after returning from self-exile.
His leadership of the ruling party gave him influence but Zardari still came under considerable criticism as Pakistan lurched from crisis to crisis, its economy crippled by power cuts and security undermined by a growing insurgency.
Zardari will lose his immunity as head of state when he steps down. He was once charged with conspiracy to commit murder after his brother-in-law, Murtaza Bhutto, was killed in 1996 but he denied any wrongdoing and was never convicted.
However, after his wife’s government collapsed in late 1996, he was arrested and charged with corruption, such as for receiving kickbacks in deals involving a Swiss company.
He was never convicted and denies the charges but spent the next eight years in jail. In 2009, the Supreme Court scrapped an amnesty law that had dismissed corruption charges against thousands of Pakistani politicians, including Zardari.
Additional reporting by Gul Yousafzai in Quetta; Editing by Robert Birsel