ISLAMABAD: Asif Ali Zardari, one of the most powerful civilian presidents the country has ever had, is set to vacate Aiwan-i-Sadr on Sunday after holding the office for a record five years.

He will make history by becoming the first elected president to complete his constitutional tenure and to be replaced by an elected individual.

Senator Farhatullah Babar, the President’s spokesman, told Dawn that after guard of honour on Sunday, Mr Zardari would leave for Lahore, where he would be received by PPP leaders at Bilawal House. He confirmed that his belongings had already been sent to Karachi.

During his days as president, Mr Zardari remained in the eye of the storm for holding dual office and faced allegations of using the Aiwan-i-Sadr for partisan politics and ignoring key issues facing the country. But on the other hand, his supporters say he made history by taking steps for strengthening democracy and made possible the transition of power from one civilian government to another.

Mr Zardari kept on drawing his power as chairman of PPP during most of his tenure, but the situation is likely to change as Mamnoon Hussain’s traits are seen to be in contrast. He has no personal powerbase like Mr Zardari and hence the office of president will now once again become a ceremonial figurehead.

Mr Zardari’s fans and followers praise him for his role in the passage of important pieces of legislation, including laws empowering women against domestic violence and sexual harassment. They also point out the passage of 18th Amendment as a major achievement of Mr Zardari, pointing out that he voluntarily surrendered his vast power to strengthen parliamentary democracy.

His aides describe as baseless propaganda the reports that Mr Zardari will spend most of his post-retirement life abroad and insist that he will stay in Pakistan and reorganise PPP which suffered a crushing defeat in the May 11 elections. Many criticise him and his policies for a decline in the popularity graph of the party, but his aides defend him by saying that he faced crisis after crises, and even managing to survive in this environment was an achievement. They cite the tension with judiciary, Memogate scandal and ‘conspiracies by state and non-state actors’ as some of the reasons which kept him restricted.

Mr Zardari rose to prominence after his marriage with Benazir Bhutto in 1987. Between 1993 and 1996, he held various cabinet positions in the second Benazir-led government. He was arrested on charges of corruption in late 1996, following the collapse of the Benazir government. Although incarcerated, he nominally served in parliament after being elected to the national assembly in 1990 and Senate in 1997.

He was released from jail in 2004 and went into self-exile in Dubai, but returned home in December 2007 following Ms Bhutto’s assassination, days after promulgation of the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) by then military ruler retired General Pervez Musharraf.

Mr Zardari was one of the beneficiaries of the NRO which was purportedly aimed at promoting national reconciliation, fostering mutual trust and confidence amongst holders of public office and removing the vestiges of political vendetta and victimization. As the co-chairman of PPP he led his party to victory in the 2008 general elections. He spearheaded a coalition that forced Gen Musharraf to resign, and was elected president on Sept 6, 2008.