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Explainer: All You Need To Know About Pakistan's (Indirect) Presidential Election

Businessman Mamnoon Hussain is widely expected to win but is considered to be a political lightweight.
With its July 30 indirect presidential vote, Pakistan will complete the task of electing a new civilian leadership in the face of monumental security and economic challenges.

The election is historic in that whoever wins will succeed a civilian president, Asif Ali Zardari, who managed to complete his entire term. That has never happened in Pakistan's 66-year existence.

The poll comes months after the election of a new parliament, the first to succeed a civilian government that had completed its entire term.

The conservative Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was voted into power in the May vote, paving the way for PML-N party leader Nawaz Sharif to be voted in as prime minister.

Ceremonial Post

Hassan Askari Rizvi, a political commentator based in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, notes that the presidency is largely a ceremonial position.

President Asif Ali Zardari managed to complete his entire term, a first in Pakistan's 66-year existence.
President Asif Ali Zardari managed to complete his entire term, a first in Pakistan's 66-year existence.
However, he says, a charismatic president does wield some influence on the country's affairs. Under the current circumstances, Rizvi says, the election is a good omen for democratic transition in Pakistan.

"The electoral process that initiated with the [May 11] national and provincial assembly elections -- this process of transition -- is going to be completed when the new president is going to be elected," Rizvi says. "On the 9th of September, he assumes office. So the whole process will be completed and then the focus will be on the performance of the government."

The Process

More than 1,000 lawmakers from Pakistan's two-house federal parliament and four provincial assemblies will elect the president.

But all of their votes are not counted equally.

The 342 members of the directly elected National Assembly and 104 members of the indirectly elected Senate each have one vote.

Each of the four provincial assemblies gets 65 votes.

The July 30 election is expected to be completed within hours and results announced the same day.

The Controversy

The former ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of outgoing President Zardari and some smaller parties are boycotting the July 30 vote after the election date was moved up over their objections.

The original date was August 6, but the Supreme Court last week ordered that the election be held earlier because most lawmakers were expected to be away on pilgrimage or offering prayers for the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which concludes around the same time.

The PPP rejected the court's ruling, arguing that it did not follow established procedure by consulting all candidates.

PPP nominee Senator Raza Rabbani said the Supreme Court did not "provide us an opportunity to present our point of view [and] a unilateral decision was made."

The boycott is unlikely to change the election results, but it does leave a question mark over the fairness of the process.

The Contenders

The boycott left two contenders in the contest.

Businessman Mamnoon Hussain, who represents the PML-N in Karachi, is widely expected to win because the ruling party and its allies can garner the votes needed to score an easy win.

Presidential candidate Wajihuddin Ahmed is a retired Supreme Court judge.
Presidential candidate Wajihuddin Ahmed is a retired Supreme Court judge.
Hussain is challenged by a former judge, Wajihuddin Ahmed. His Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf political party is likely to emerge a distant second in the race.

Commentator Rizvi says that a Hussain victory would make for a predictable and dull outcome.

He says that Hussain is a political lightweight who is unlikely to become a towering political figure.

"Mamnoon Hussain is a businessman from [the southern seaport city of] Karachi. He is a loyal member of the PML-N and loyal to Nawaz Sharif," Rizvi says. "When it comes to overall Pakistani politics, he figures nowhere. Nevertheless, as a loyalist of Nawaz Sharif, he will work in close collaboration with Nawaz Sharif."

Hussain, 73, was born in the northern Indian city of Agra. His family moved to Pakistan in 1949. He briefly attended a madrasah but graduated from a leading Pakistani business school in Karachi.

He has managed an extensive family textile business and served brief stints as a provincial governor and an adviser in the southern province of Sindh in the 1990s.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.