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Asif Zardari back into public; leaves President House

09 September, 2013

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ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari stepped down on Sunday, leaving his official residence after a record five years in power overshadowed by worsening security and a weakening economy.

The 58-year-old widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was treated to an honour guard from the armed forces and shook hands with staff before leaving the plush presidential palace. He was driven away in a black luxury saloon car from the sprawling residence at the foot of the lush green Margalla Hills. Never popular and always shrouded in controversy, Zardari – once jailed for 11 years for alleged corruption – is now likely to split his time between Pakistan and Dubai.

He retires six years after his wife's murder, having presided over the only civilian government in Pakistan to complete a full term in office and hand over to another at the ballot box. His successor Mamnoon Hussain is to be sworn in today (Monday). Zardari is going to Lahore, hoping to open a new era for his Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which suffered a humiliating electoral defeat to the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) in May. Aides deny that Zardari, unpopular and divisive within the PPP, will spend most of his time abroad and insist he will concentrate on trying to revive the centre-left party. The PPP ran a rudderless general election campaign and has been thrust into its greatest crisis, suffering a crushing electoral defeat without a Bhutto at its helm.

Zardari said in an interview broadcast on Saturday that he would not run as prime minister in future and would instead re-organise the party by shuttling around the country. Zardari has earned a rare distinction of being the only democratically elected president in the 66-year-long history of Pakistan to have completed a full five-year constitutional tenure.

The activities of Zardari as the head of state formally came to an end following the ceremony of farewell guard of honour by the smartly turned out contingent of the armed forces in the Presidency. He will today (Monday) attend the oath-taking ceremony, as former president, of the newly elected president, Mamnoon Hussain. This will also be another fresh addition in the political and democratic history of the country.

Zardari on Sunday reached Lahore airport from Islamabad where Punjab Minister for Agriculture Dr Farukh Javeed gave him a reception on behalf of the provincial government of the PML-N. Later, he left for Bilawal House in Bahria Town by a helicopter where his party workers welcomed him with slogans of "Jeay Bhutto" and "Welcome Zardari". PPP arranged a special ceremony in honour to its co-chairman in which around two thousand party workers and leaders, including Aitzaz Ahsan, Latif Khosa, Rehman Malik, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Jahangir Badr, Farooq Naik, Qamar Zaman Kaira, and Samina Ghurki.

Addressing the party workers, Zardari said parliament and democracy had been strengthened and women empowered during his presidential term and now they would go ahead in the same way. He assured Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that the PPP would fully support him against all anti-democracy forces that believe in "politics of guns".

He said that he had promised Nawaz Sharif that his party would stand by him against the enemies of Pakistan. Zardari said that some international forces wanted to upset the situation in Pakistan and "his party's mandate was snatched in the general elections", but they accepted it for the sake of strengthening democracy.

Zardari said that his party was not defeated in the war (of democracy) and looking ahead to the next elections. He was sure about a comeback of his party and said that they had set new trends in politics. According to party sources, Zardari is likely to travel back to Islamabad today (Monday) to participate in the oath-taking ceremony of the new president. Later, he will return to Lahore to hold party meetings.

Moreover, newly elected president, Mamnoon Hussain, will take oath today (Monday) as the 12th president of Pakistan. Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry will administer the oath.

A ceremony will be held at the Presidency at five in the evening for which invitations have already been issued to dignitaries. It is also expected that outgoing president, Asif Ali Zardari, will also participate in the ceremony. For the first time in country's history the position of president is being transferred to another democratically elected president. Former presidents, prime ministers and 60 relatives of the newly elected president have been invited to participate in the ceremony.

President-elect Mamnoon Hussain will take over as the new head of state with much lesser powers than what Zardari assumed five years back. Hussain has said that collective efforts are needed from all political parties to tackle issues like law and order, and energy crises, which are two major issues facing the country.

He said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is serious and determined to solve the problems of the country, and had also visited Karachi and will chair a special meeting with all the stakeholders in connection with law and order. The president-elect stated that it was a good news for the nation that the energy production has been increased from 11,000MW to 17,000MW, and termed it an achievement of the new government in a short span of time.

On the situation of Balochistan the new president said that the governor of Balochistan, Muhammad Khan Achakzai and the chief minister, Abdul Malik Baloch, are aware of the ground situation as they have direct contact with the people of Balochistan.

Talking about Kashmir he said that Kashmir issue remains the biggest hurdle in the normalisation of bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan. The present government of Pakistan supports dialogue and peace. Commenting on Pak-US relations Mamnoon Hussain said that to maintain good relations, the US government should stop drone attacks inside Pakistan.

End.

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