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Zardari Elected President of Pakistan

  • Barry Newhouse

The widower of Pakistan's assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto has won elections to become the country's next president. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad, where Asif Ali Zardari won an estimated 482 of the 702 votes from lawmakers to become what some believe will be Pakistan's most powerful civilian leader.

Asif Ali Zardari won the majority of votes in three of the country's four provincial assemblies as well as in both houses of parliament.

In the capital's national assembly hall, supporters of the Pakistan Peoples Party were jubilant even before the election commissioner announced results.

Zardari's two daughters held a portrait of their mother, Benazir Bhutto, as members of the party she once led congratulated them on their father's victory.

Zardari's win caps a remarkable political revival for a man who spent 11 years in prison on corruption and murder charges - without ever being convicted. His win also marks the formal end to Pakistan's long departure from democratic rule under former president Pervez Musharraf, who had seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

In brief remarks to news media at the prime minister's house, Zardari paid tribute to his deceased wife and her father.

"She taught us how to live. She taught us how to do politics," he said. "We all intend to follow of philosophies of the PPP, the philosophies of Shaheed [martyr] Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the democracies that they gave their life for."

Political analysts say Zardari's strong political support in the legislatures and Musharraf's expansion of presidential powers could make Zardari the country's most powerful civilian president.

He has pledged to reign in the presidency's broad powers, which include the ability to dismiss parliament, but many Pakistanis are skeptical that he will follow through.

Following Zardari's election victory, he tried to reassure his critics.

"I reiterate, parliament is sovereign. This president shall be subservient to the parliament," he said.

Zardari's political opponents congratulated on his election win Saturday, but also urged him to drop his close affiliation with the Pakistan Peoples Party. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said he hoped Zardari's tenure would return the presidency to its impartial role.

Despite his critics, Zardari's win is the latest in a string of political successes that drove former president Pervez Musharraf from office and made his party the most powerful in the country.

Pakistan's information minister and political ally of Zardari, Sherry Rehman, told reporters that Zardari's victory is a victory for Pakistan's democracy.

Rehman said her party has won the presidential vote fairly, without using force or abusing the constitution. She said there are many difficulties ahead and the PPP is the best party for addressing the country's problems.

Those difficulties include the country's faltering economy and ongoing battle with Taliban militants.

While lawmakers were voting Saturday, a car bomb blast near a security checkpoint in Peshawar killed at least 10 people.

Pakistani Taliban militants later claimed credit for the attack.


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