Zardari Returns as President After Historic Coalition Victory

Asif Ali Zardari, the co-chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has been elected as the 14th president of Pakistan on Saturday, March 9, 2024. He is the first civilian president to be re-elected for a second term in the country’s history.

Zardari, 68, secured 255 votes out of 442 in the electoral college, which consisted of the newly elected members of the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies. He was the joint candidate of the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the two largest parties in the parliament, which formed a coalition government after the February 8 general elections.

His main rival, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, 75, the leader of the Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and the nominee of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), a group of independent candidates backed by the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), received 119 votes. The PTI, led by former prime minister Imran Khan, who is currently in jail on corruption charges, had boycotted the presidential election, alleging that it was rigged and unconstitutional.

Zardari will replace the incumbent president, Dr Arif Alvi, who belongs to the PTI and whose five-year term expired last year. However, Alvi had continued in office since the new electoral college was not formed due to the delay in the general elections, which were marred by violence and allegations of fraud.

Zardari, a businessman-turned-politician, had previously served as the president from 2008 to 2013, after his wife Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a bomb and gun attack in 2007. He had faced several corruption and criminal cases during his tenure, which earned him the nickname of “Mr. Ten Percent” for allegedly taking kickbacks on government contracts. He had also faced criticism for his weak governance and his inability to tackle the security and economic challenges facing the country.

However, he had also introduced constitutional reforms that reduced the powers of the president and restored the parliamentary system of democracy. He had also improved the relations with India, the United States, and China, and supported the war on terror against the Taliban and other militant groups.

Zardari’s re-election as president is seen as a sign of political stability and continuity in Pakistan, which has a history of military coups and political turmoil. It is also seen as a victory for the democratic forces and the civilian supremacy over the military establishment, which has often interfered in the political affairs of the country.

Zardari’s coalition partner, Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is also in jail on corruption charges, was sworn in as the prime minister on March 4. Sharif had pledged to work with Zardari to address the issues of inflation, unemployment, poverty, energy crisis, and terrorism, and to strengthen the institutions of democracy and accountability.

Zardari and Sharif have vowed to uphold the legacy of their late spouses, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who were both popular and charismatic leaders of Pakistan. They have also expressed their commitment to the Charter of Democracy, a document signed by Bhutto and Sharif in 2006, which outlined the principles of cooperation and reconciliation between the PPP and the PML-N, and the restoration of the 1973 Constitution.

Zardari is expected to take oath as the president on March 11, in a ceremony that will be attended by the prime minister, the chief justice, the army chief, and other dignitaries. He will also address the nation and the parliament on the same day, outlining his vision and agenda for his second term as the head of state.

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