ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s presidential election next week will be a three-way tussle between the country’s main parties after the Election Commission on Saturday issued a final list of candidates.
Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, looks likely to win the September 6 vote by legislators for a replacement for Pervez Musharraf, who resigned as president last week.
Investors, their confidence shattered by political upheaval and militant violence, are hoping the presidential election will bring an end to uncertainty and usher in more stable politics.
Pakistan’s stock market, which rose for six consecutive years to 2007 and was one of the best-performing markets in Asia in that period, has fallen about 36 percent this year.
Authorities sought to arrest the latest slide on Thursday by setting a floor for the key index at Wednesday’s closing level. The rupee has lost about a quarter of its value against the dollar this year.
Zardari’s main rival for president looks likely to be Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, a former chief justice nominated by the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif is leader of the second biggest party in parliament and pulled out of the coalition with Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) this week in a dispute over the government’s failure to reinstate dozens of judges sacked by Musharraf in November.
Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a former government minister and top official of the main pro-Musharraf party, is the third candidate.
Sayed said on Friday that Zardari should withdraw as a candidate because of questions about his mental health and past corruption charges, none of which were ever proved.
The call coincided with reports some party colleagues were urging Zardari to drop out, although party spokesmen dismissed that speculation.
Saturday was the final day for candidates to withdraw their nominations and Zardari remained on the list.
“It is the moment of embarrassment for those who were spreading propaganda that Mr Zardari would withdraw his candidature,” a senior PPP leader Babar Awan told reporters.
“Asif Ali Zardari will take part in the September 6 presidential election.”
If another sign were needed that Zardari has his eye firmly set on the presidency, his sister, Faryal Talpur, a PPP member of parliament, withdrew her candidacy. Talpur had been what is known as a “covering candidate” for Zardari in the election.
Politicians often nominate such candidates to take their place in case, for some reason, they can’t stand, and her withdrawal effectively confirms Zardari’s intentions.
Members of the country’s four provincial assemblies and two houses of the national parliament will elect the president.
The PPP and its allies would appear to have the most votes but all of the three main parties are trying to win the support of smaller parties and numerous independents.