Mamnoon Hussain
Mamnoon Hussain Reuters

When Pakistan’s newly elected president, Mamnoon Hussain, was born, the country did not even exist. Hussain, 73 , of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, will replace outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari, following a vote by lawmakers in the National Assembly (parliament) and four provincial assemblies. Given that PML-N has a majority in the National Assembly as well as the assembly of Punjab (Pakistan’s most populous province), Hussain’s victory was all but guaranteed.

However, Hussain’s “election” is somewhat tainted given that the principal opposition party, the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), of Zardari boycotted the poll (due to a change in the scheduled date of the vote that precluded it from running an adequate campaign). Theoretically, the president and prime minister of Pakistan could belong to different parties. The presidential office is now largely ceremonial after Zardari agreed to amendments in the constitution in 2010, which transferred many presidential powers over to the prime minister. The last “president” with real authority, Pervez Musharraf, was a military dictator who seized power in a coup in 1999 (from none other than Sharif himself). The president is the constitutional chief of Pakistan’s armed forces, although he cannot order the deployments of military personnel. Zardari’s principal “accomplishment” in office was holding the title for the entire five-year run of a democratically elected civilian government.

As for Hussain, a businessman turned politician and former provincial governor of Sindh, is largely unknown to the public, but is viewed as a close and loyal confidant to Sharif. Hussain was born in 1940, seven years before the partition of British India created the state of Pakistan, in the town of Agra, now in northern India. He is now the 12th president in Pakistan’s history -- five of the prior presidents were military generals, and four gained the office through coups.

Hussain’s election was criticized by some Pakistani bloggers. One said: “Shouldn't a President be a neutral candidate? How can you expect neutrality especially after experiences from PPP President Zardari?” Another, calling himself “Muhammad Ahsan Khan” commented that “every President in Pakistan considers himself a democratic President and claims to be the [representative] of the people. The people have never elected a president in Pakistan as in France and USA. Any [individual] not elected by the people [cannot] claim to be its representative.”