Pakistan’s Zardari ends term in office

Zadari.jpg

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari stepped down 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 on the outskirts of Islamabad.

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 on Monday.

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 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.

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