Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari inspects a guard of honour by the armed forces during his farewell ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Islamabad yesterday.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari stepped down yesterday, 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 on the outskirts of Islamabad.
Never popular and always shrouded in controversy, Zardari — once jailed for 11 years for alleged corruption — is 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 will be sworn in today. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry will administer oath of office on Hussain at a ceremony at the presidency.
A businessman and close ally of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Hussain’s low-key persona and lack of personal power base will put him in stark contrast to Zardari.
Zardari is going to Lahore, hoping to open a new era for his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which suffered a humiliating defeat from the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) in the May 11 general election. 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 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.
Running the party is more important than becoming the chief executive, he said. “I will make my security arrangements because I think the army and police will not be able to give me security to my satisfaction.”
He said he not only brought back the constitution in its true shape, but also enabled poor women to earn their livelihood with honour and shape their future.
Zardari said scores of good things could not be done during his tenure though they had the will and resources. “Together with China, I launched the China Concept but failed to accomplish it. However, the handover of Gwadar to China strengthened the latter’s trust and confidence in us.” He suggested retirement to old party workers and encouraged youngsters to join the party. He was confident that the PPP will soon emerge again as the largest party. “Bilawal (my son) will contest the next general election.”
Today he will chair a meeting of the party in Lahore to discuss a resolution to nominate him as party chairman.
All his belongings have been shifted to Lahore while dozens of rare species of horses, cows and goats have been transported to his Sangjani farmhouse. He has left some cows and goats as gifts for Hussain.
He introduced and pursued the policy of reconciliation with all political forces and offered an olive branch to his opponents.