Pakistani president says he will not run again

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The president of Pakistan said in an interview aired Sunday that he will not run for another term, a decision that was widely expected after his party was trounced in parliamentary elections last month.

It was Asif Ali Zardari’s first interview since the May 11 election when his Pakistan People’s Party, which controlled the outgoing government, won only 39 seats in the 342-member house, compared to 176 for the winning Pakistan Muslim League-N.

Under Pakistan’s constitution, the president is elected by members of both houses of parliament as well as provincial legislatures, making it highly unlikely that Zardari would be able to garner enough support for another five-year term.

During the television interview, Zardari acknowledged his party’s loss in explaining why he would not run when his term expires in September.

“I don’t think I will have a right. This time we wouldn’t have a right because we don’t have a majority,” he said.

After changes to the constitution during Zardari’s tenure, many of the powers of the presidency were transferred to the prime minister. That was an attempt to reverse changes made under former leader Pervez Musharraf, who tried to strengthen the executive office. As a result of a constitutional amendment, the presidency has become more of a ceremonial position.

Zardari is the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in 2007 after she returned to Pakistan to contest elections. He had little experience in politics but rode to power on a wave of sympathy following her assassination.

For the interview, Zardari sat next to a framed photo of his late wife, and a large painting of Bhutto hung on the wall behind him.

Zardari’s popularity has plummeted during the course of his administration over accusations of corruption and widespread anger at the worsening electricity blackouts around the country.

The interview also covered matters of policy.

Speaking of the contentious U.S. drone program, Zardari said there was no agreement with the U.S. over allowing drones to target militants in the tribal areas. The CIA’s drone program is highly unpopular in Pakistan, where people consider it a violation of their sovereignty. The government regularly denounces the drone strikes.

However, Pakistani leaders have a history of taking one stance publicly on the drones and then privately supporting them. In one of the cables leaked by WikiLeaks, former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, a PPP member and a Zardari ally, is quoted as telling the U.S. ambassador in 2008 that he didn’t object to them.

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