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President Zardari steps down tomorrow

07 September, 2013

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari steps down tomorrow (Sunday) having defied expectations by holding onto power for a record five years but facing criticism for leaving the economy and security in a shocking state.

Never popular and always shrouded in controversy, Zardari – once jailed for 11 years for alleged corruption – relinquishes power for a new life likely to be split between Pakistan and Dubai. Six years after his wife, two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was murdered, he retires having presided over the only civilian government in Pakistan history to complete a full term in office and hand over to another at the ballot box.

His successor is Mamnoon Hussain, a businessman and close ally of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif whose low-key persona and lack of personal power base puts him in stark contrast to Zardari. "Politicking, keeping diverse groups together, that's one of his achievements," political analyst Hasan Askari told AFP of Zardari, 58, who had to deal with a fractious ruling coalition and a divided Pakistan People's Party (PPP). Another achievement was facing down a zealous judiciary.

Furious that judges sacked under military rule in 2007 were not immediately reinstated when Zardari took power, the courts pursued him. The Supreme Court convicted of contempt and sacked his first prime minister for refusing to ask Switzerland to reopen multi-million-dollar corruption cases against Zardari. "I have not seen any Supreme Court in the world trying to put its sitting president on trial in a foreign country," said Askari. "He survived that. He's a big survivor."

Allies praise the outgoing parliament for passing more legislation than any of its predecessors, including laws empowering women against domestic violence and sexual harassment. In 2010, Zardari relinquished much of his power to the prime minister, rolling back on decades of meddling by military rulers in an effort to institutionalise parliamentary democracy. But critics say he showed no leadership in the face of economic decline and spiralling insecurity, laying accusations of poor governance and rampant corruption at his door.

"Continuity is a positive development in a country like Pakistan where political leaders don't last long. Other than that there is no achievement you could really highlight," said Askari. Prime Minister Nawaz has inherited a surge in terrorist attacks. Shootings and bomb attacks are now a daily reality. Nothing has been done to eliminate the plethora of militant networks blamed for violence in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

End.

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