01 September 2008 International pakistan: musharraf's exit

There's A New Chair In The Shop

With Sharif leaving it to the PPP, options are whittling down on the next Pakistan president
There's A New Chair In The Shop
There's A New Chair In The Shop
I still remember this image from years ago: curled up on a sofa, sipping juice from a glass in her hand, Benazir Bhutto, then in the Opposition, was jocularly talking about the posts that could be hers in the future. With a hearty laugh, her eyes twinkling, Benazir said, "What about being the Senate chairperson? It's only a heartbeat away from the presidency?" The joke was obvious: the Senate chairperson officiates as acting president should the incumbent resign or die in office or is away from the country.

Cut to last year. Days after Benazir was buried, her husband, Asif Zardari, told hundreds of grieving party workers, "We will not only put the PPP in the prime minister's house but portraits of the PPP leader will also hang in the presidency." The implication was clear: since Benazir's portrait couldn't be hung in the presidency as long as Pervez Musharraf was president, the PPP would push for its own president at an opportune moment.

Eight months later, in an ironic twist of fate, it's Zardari who's the frontrunner for the president's office, an office his wife didn't think much of. An office even Zardari himself didn't believe he would ever occupy. Not willing to contest elections (presumably because he isn't a graduate), Zardari has perhaps had a rethink—better to be president than just the power behind the prime minister. Wearing one more cap won't hurt him.

His name surfaced as soon as his son and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said cryptically, "The next president of the country will be from the PPP. Someone from the PPP will be the next president of Pakistan but I don't know who that will be."

Asfandyar Khan and Speaker Fehmida Mirza

Zardari's candidature shouldn't meet opposition from Sharif who has said it's for the PPP to decide who it wants as president. Importantly, Zardari has received the backing of Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Altaf Hussain, who said, "Keeping in view the sacrifice of Benazir Bhutto for democracy and after consulting my colleagues, I have come to the conclusion that Asif Ali Zardari should be the next president."

With a Punjabi as prime minister, many think the president should come from one of the other three provinces. This has prompted the political class to name Awami National Party leader Asfandyar Wali Khan as the most suitable candidate. Hailing from the NWFP, Asfandyar is the Frontier Gandhi's son; his candidature could help restore confidence to a province alienated from the Pakistani state.

There's also much talk of choosing a woman president. Such a move could bolster Pakistan's argument that it is a moderate Muslim nation. In this category, National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza is the favourite. In a lighter vein though, hear what Musharraf had to say about this proposal: "Then what would you do with the likes of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a staunch coalition partner whose party manifesto is vehemently against a woman president? He would never support such a move." Rehman had even refused to support Fehmida for the speaker's post.

Next Story : Neherwali Haveli
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