ISLAMABAD, (Reuters) – The widower of assassinated former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto should withdraw as a candidate for president because of questions about his mental health, a rival candidate said on Friday.
Bhutto’s party has nominated Asif Ali Zardari and analysts say he should be able to secure enough votes to win a Sept. 6 vote by legislators on a replacement for Pervez Musharraf, who resigned as president last week.
Investors hope the presidential election will bring some stability and a clearer outlook for the country.
Britain’s Financial Times newspaper published a report this week suggesting Zardari, who spent 11 years in prison on various charges but was never convicted, suffered from mental problems.
Bhutto’s party has dismissed the report, saying Zardari was tortured in prison and as a result had been under mental stress and had had a heart problem, but had never been mentally ill. However, rival presidential candidate Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a former government minister and top official of the main pro-Musharraf party, said the report raised questions and Zardari should withdraw.
Referring to the report, Sayed said: “It is legitimate for the people of Pakistan to ask whether that story is true or not and what is his response because, so far, neither the government of Pakistan nor Mr Zardari has responded.” “I would humbly request … that he should withdraw his candidature in the supreme national interest, in the interest of democratic stability and also in the interest of the future prospects of his … party,” Sayed said. The Election Commission will issue a final list of candidates on Saturday.
A party spokeswoman dismissed any suggestion Zardari would withdraw, and also dismissed newspaper speculation some members of his party were recommending he pull out and focus on running the party. “Mr Zardari is the Pakistan People’s Party’s unanimous choice and he accepted our request to take the nomination for the position of president,” said spokeswoman Farahnaz Isphani.
Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur, a People’s Party member of parliament, is what is known as a “covering candidate” in the presidential election. Politicians often nominate such candidates to take their place in case, for some reason, they can’t stand.
Another party spokesman said Zardari had moved to the tightly guarded prime minister’s house in Islamabad on the advice of party colleagues worried about his safety. “As far as I know there is no specific threat to his life. He has just agreed to accommodate the concerns of the party members who worry about his safety,” said spokesman Jamil Soomro.
Critics say disputes over the presidency and a long-running judicial controversy distract the government’s attention from tackling militants, who have stepped up bomb attacks in response to military operations against them.
A suicide bomber tried to force his vehicle into a military camp in the northwest on Friday but was blown up when soldiers opened fire on him, security officials said. Two civilians were killed and 20 paramilitary soldiers were wounded.
The surge in militant violence has alarmed nuclear-armed Pakistan’s Western allies, worried about the stability of the strategically placed country, whose support is vital in defeating al Qaeda and the Taliban campaign in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The United States says al Qaeda and Taliban militants are based in sanctuaries in northwest Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun tribal areas on the Afghan border where they orchestrate attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plot violence in the West.
The militant violence together with political uncertainty and poor economic data have undermined investor confidence in Pakistan, leading to a sharp slide in stocks which authorities have tried to halt by setting a floor for the main share index.
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.
The market ended a marginal 0.05 percent higher on Friday, a day after exchange authorities announced they were setting a floor for the index at Wednesday’s closing level. The rupee, which has lost about a quarter of its value against the dollar this year, was also flat.