Asif Ali Zardari secured a large win in Pakistan’s presidential elections yesterday, capping a remarkable rise from jail, exile and his wife and former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination just nine months ago.
The controversial front-runner swept a poll among lawmakers to become the 14th president in Pakistan’s short but turbulent history, taking power in the world’s only nuclear-armed Islamic state and frontline “war on terror” ally.
“It is an historic win. It is a victory for democracy,” said Sherry Rehman, the country’s information minister and a close aide of Bhutto. “This man suffered jail for more than 11 years for the sake of democracy and today he is elected as the president of the country and it is a sign of the strengthening of democracy.”
Zardari secured 281 out of 426 parliamentary votes and won a thumping majority in three of the four provincial assemblies forming the presidential electoral college, officials said.
The 53-year-old defeated retired chief justice Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, who was backed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and Mushahid Hussain, a close aide of former President Pervez Musharraf, whose Aug. 18 resignation triggered the election.
Zardari quickly became the clear favorite in a three-way race to take power after Musharraf’s nearly nine-year rule, marked by militancy and economic turmoil.
Security was tight as secret voting began shortly after 10am and ended at 3pm in the two chambers of parliament and four provincial assemblies.
Rampant militancy was underscored in the northwestern city of Peshawar, where voting was taking place, as a suicide car-bomber rammed a police checkpost, killing 16 people.
Tensions rose further last week after a failed assassination attempt on Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, whose car was hit by sniper fire as it drove to meet him at an airport on Wednesday.
Zardari’s wife was killed in a gun-and-suicide attack at a campaign rally in December.
Voting in Peshawar was briefly interrupted by a 5.6-magnitude earthquake.
Zardari will now face a series of challenges as president.
Pakistan’s economy is backsliding, with high inflation and a volatile political situation contributing to a 40 percent fall in the stock market since January.
The election also came amid mounting international concern about the stability of Pakistan, which under Musharraf backed the US after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack in its invasion of Afghanistan.