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'Mr. 10%' becomes Mr. President

Text by Nandita VIJ

Latest update : 2009-07-23

Long known as "Mr. 10%" due to his past corruption scandals, the controversial Pakistan People’s Party leader and widower of the late Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, has won the presidential election in Pakistan.

Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain Pakistani former PM Benazir Bhutto, has won a five-year presidential term in the Sept. 06 election.


Zardari has emerged from the shadow of his late spouse to become one of Pakistan’s strongest political figures today.


The son of a rich Sindhi tribal leader, Zardari entered the iconic Bhutto dynasty after marrying Benazir Bhutto in 1987. He jumped into politics after little resistance, starting out as finance minister and then taking charge of the ministry of environment during his wife’s second term as prime minister (1993-1996). It is during this time that the couple is accused of having misused government funds to buy a massive luxury estate in Surrey, UK.


Widely known as “Mr. 10%”, Zardari spent a total of 11 years in prison over various corruption, murder and extortion charges in Pakistan and abroad. None of the charges against him and Bhutto have been proven.


A rich polo player and owner of a private discotheque at home, he also earned the reputation of a “polo-playing playboy.”


After his release in 2004, he left Pakistan to join his wife and children who had been living in exile since 1999.


Although Zardari resolutely stood by his wife throughout her political career, his tarnished image continued to be a liability. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party held him responsible for her downfall in the 1990’s and from then on kept him away from the public eye.


Party members saw the Zardari-Bhutto marriage as one of convenience. The couple are believed to have led separate lives while in exile but made sure to appear together in public.


They returned to Pakistan in October 2007 after former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf granted them amnesty from all charges.



Pakistan under Zardari


The man once considered a burden for Bhutto’s party is now its political champion and presidential candidate. His unwavering stance at the time of his wife’s assassination earned him a lot of respect from party members.


He took control of the PPP as co-chairman and named his teenage son Bilawal Bhutto as party chairman.


Zardari led the PPP through successful general elections earlier this year and worked with long-time foe Nawaz Sharif to free the country from Musharraf’s dictatorship.


However, Zardari faces strong criticism for failing to keep his electoral promises, including the one to reinstate Supreme Court judges sacked by Musharraf. Analysts say Zardari fears the judges may seek to overturn the amnesty on corruption charges.


Zardari, a US ally, faces major challenges including rising Islamic extremism, a rapidly declining economy and the insurgency and governance issues in the tribal zones of the North West Frontier Provinces.


He  succeeds former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who was forced to resign under threats of impeachment.


Musharraf’s successor will be chosen through a secret ballot of the two houses of parliament and the country’s four provincial assemblies.

Date created : 2008-09-04