It is against a backdrop of security fears, political instability and a sagging economy that Pakistani legislators are preparing to elect a new President. He will replace Pervez Musharraf who resigned last month to avoid government moves to impeach him.
The frontrunner is the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party won February’s election. But he is a controversial figure, having spent more than a decade in jail, on charges of corruption and murder.
The three-way contest also involves retired Supreme Court judge Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui. He is the candidate of former premier Nawaz Sharif, who has just pulled his party out of the ruling coalition. And then there is Mushahid Hussain Syed whose party backed Musharraf when he overthrew Sharif in a bloodless coup, nine years ago.
Whoever wins, the challenges facing Pakistan’s new President will be substantial. Islamist militant violence is on the rise. And soaring fuel and food prices have driven inflation up to nearly 25 percent, while trade and fiscal deficits are widening.