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Zardari set to sweep Pak presidential elections

By Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
September 05, 2008 14:37 IST
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Pakistan's ruling Pakistan People's Party chief Asif Ali Zardari appears set to sweep Saturday's presidential poll and would be expected to tackle problems like rising militancy and economic malaise after his election.

Although Zardari has barely stirred out of the federal capital due to security concerns, his two rivals have been criss crossing the country to drum up support.

But the 53-year-old widower of former premier Benazir Bhutto, who became head of the PPP after she was assassinated in December last year, has been billed the front-runner to win the election despite the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz 's decision to pull out of the ruling coalition and field a candidate against Zardari.

Sources said that Zardari expects to poll over 60 per cent of the 700 members in the electoral college, in an election necessitated by former President Pervez Musharraf's resignation on August 18.

PPP has been able to rope in the backing from smaller parties like the opposition Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and dissidents from the main opposition PML-Quam.

The party commands adequate support in the two houses of parliament, the Senate and National Assembly, and the four provincial assemblies, which comprise the electoral college for the polls.

In significant pre-poll comments, Zardari has said that he intends to trim the President's sweeping powers, which includes the authority to dissolve Parliament and dismiss the prime minister.

He also vowed to defeat the "domestic Taliban insurgency" and said his country stands with the US in the fight in the war against terror.

Since the election schedule was announced last month, Zardari has largely been confined to the prime minister's house to which he shifted from his residence because of security concerns.

His rivals PML-Q secretary general Mushahid Hussain Sayed and former Chief Justice Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, who is backed by the PML-N, have travelled across the provinces to seek support.

Zardari met members of parliament and the provincial assemblies at his home and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani travelled to provincial capitals to seek votes for him.

Most observers believe Siddiqui and Sayed stand no chance of winning against Zardari. Siddiqui has showed restraint and not issued any statement against his rival candidates but Sayed has openly targeted Zardari, raising questions about media reports on the state of his mental health and the source of $60 million in Swiss bank accounts that were recently unfrozen.

The PPP's leaders and ministers have mounted a spirited defence of Zardari and Gilani has said the premier and President should be from the same party to ensure stability.

Zardari's opponents, including Sharif, have also questioned the PPP's decision to field him without repealing the President's controversial powers to dissolve parliament and dismiss the prime minister.

Sharif has been insisting that a "non-partisan" candidate should have been fielded in keeping with an agreement between the PPP and PML-N, which he has accused Zardari of violating.

PPP is also banking on the legacy of the Bhutto family, with the party's banners and posters prominently featuring pictures of Zardari alongside his late wife, prominently displayed in the cities.

Both the PPP and PML-N are also making efforts to woo dissidents in the so-called "forward bloc" of the PML-Q. PML-N candidate Siddiqui even met PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and urged him to withdraw his party's candidate so that a tough fight could be given to Zardari. The PML-Q did not agree to the proposal.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission has completed preparations for holding the presidential elections, including the printing of ballot papers.

The election will be held during a joint session of the National Assembly and Senate in Islamabad and sessions of the four provincial assemblies.

The polling will be held from 10 am to 3 pm on Saturday and the result is expected to be announced late afternoon.

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad