ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari stepped down Sunday at the end of his five-year term, becoming the first democratically elected president in the country's history to complete his full term in office.
At a ceremony at the presidency shown live on state television, an honor guard bid farewell to a smiling Zardari. His successor, Mamnoon Hussain, is scheduled to be sworn in Monday.
Zardari rose to power after assassination of his wife, two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, in a gun and bomb attack in Dec. 2007.
Analysts count his government's completion of a full term in a hostile political environment to his credit, as well as his strong stance against Islamic militancy. However, economic mismanagement and a failure to tackle the country's energy crisis hurt Zardari's popularity, they say.
In an interview with local channel Geo TV to be aired on Monday, Zardari talked about "lost opportunities" and admitted that the economy could have been better managed. He said: "More work could have been done."
Zardari said he took pride in the rewriting and amendments made to the country's constitution. Various Pakistani military dictators made changes over the years to the constitution to suit to their whims.
During the interview, Zardari smoked an electronic cigarette and looked relaxed. One scene showed him feeding his cat.
Hussain, a textile businessman from the newly elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is set to replace Zardari as president. He is a longtime member of Sharif's PML-N and served as governor of Sindh for about four months in 1999. Otherwise, he has not been a prominent figure in national politics.
Despite the homey ease of his television interview, Zardari has been a contentious figure as president and has often battled with both the powerful army and the Supreme Court.
His other major accomplishments include transferring power in democratic elections in a country plagued by military coups. Pakistani army dictators ruled for most of the country's 66-year history. He also agreed to a constitutional amendment that transferred many of the president's powers to the prime minister, leaving his position as largely ceremonial.
But Zardari's government is widely perceived to have done little to address the major problems facing the country, especially the pervasive electricity shortages that crippled Pakistan's economy and left some people without power for up to 20 hours per day.
The army launched major operations against the Pakistani Taliban during Zardari's tenure, but the group has proved resilient and continues to stage frequent attacks against security personnel and civilians.
In first 100 days of the new Sharif's government, the militants have launched more than 60 attacks, killing scores of people.
Opposed to the Zardari government's stand of fighting the militants, Sharif has stated a policy of holding unconditional peace negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban. The new government has convened a conference of all political parties on Monday to come to a consensus on the possible dialogue.
Zardari made it clear in the interview that he didn't have any desire to hold any other government office in future. He said the presidency should be ultimate position for any politician. He said that he would like to help his party after it lost badly in the May elections.
"In my opinion, building the party is a bigger job," he said.