Asif Ali Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto, elected president in Pakistan

Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the assassinated former prime minister, Benazir Bhuttto, has been elected president by the country’s parliament and regional assemblies.

Mr Zardari is a shrewd politician. He has taken firm control of Bhutto’s ruling Pakistan People Party Photo: EPA

According to an unofficial tally, Mr Zardari secured at least 458 out of 702 electoral college votes, including over 280 votes in the parliament.

“It’s not only a victory for Mr Zardari and the Pakistan People’s Party but it’s a victory for … Benazir Bhutto’s dream of a democratic political system,” said Farzana Raja, the party’s spokeswoman as Mr Zardari’s supporters chanted “long live Bhutto”.

Members of Pakistan’s national assembly, senate and four provincial assemblies were seeking to replace Pervez Musharraf, who resigned as president last month.

The candidate won 62 of 65 possible votes in Sindh Province, the historical seat of the Bhutto dynasty, 56 of 61 votes from North West Frontier Province and 59 of 63 votes in Baluchistan.

Votes cast by Punjabi parliamentarians, who have previously supported Mr Zardari’s opponent, had not yet been fully counted.

Mr Zardari, whose Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) heads a coalition government, was known as a polo- playing playboy in his younger days, and took command of the country’s most popular party after his wife’s assassination on Dec. 27.

Mr Zardari’s rise to the Pakistan’s political heights has caused some consternation as analysts fear he may be a divisive figure.

The PPP won parliamentary elections in February making him one of the most powerful figures in the country. He appointed a pliant, unthreatening PPP leader, Yusuf Raza Gilani, as prime minister but has remained the de fact leader.

His decision in August to begin impeachment proceedings against Musharraf led to the latter’s resignation, and cleared the way for Mr Zardari to win the top job.

His two rival candidates for president were Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, a former judge, nominated by ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party, and Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a senior official of the party that backed Mr Musharraf and ruled under him.

Mr Zardari will have to contend with a host of problems that have raised fears for the prospects of the nuclear-armed US ally, including surging militant violence and an economy in crisis.

By Isambard Wilkinson in Islamabad
Last Updated: 3:36PM BST 06 Sep 2008

Source: The Telegraph

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