An apolitical president?

Mamnoon Hussain maintained a low profile during his entire uncontroversial presidency

An apolitical president?

Mamnoon Hussain – who served as the twelfth president of Pakistan from September 9, 2013 till September 9, 2018 – maintained a low profile during his entire uncontroversial presidency. This gave birth to pertinent questions: was he was an apolitical, loyal or invisible president? Where does he stand as a president of the country? Given the country’s chequered history, these questions deserve special attention. Opinions on his presidential term vary. To begin with, a group of political commentators considers him apolitical—a non-partisan person. Another bunch of academicians believes that he was loyal to Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Yet another school holds the view that he was an ‘invisible’ president.

To understand his presidency, it is imperative to follow his political journey. Mamnoon Hussain was born on December 23, 1940, in Agra, British India. In 1949, he and his family migrated to Karachi, Pakistan, where he graduated in commerce from Karachi University in 1963. He did his master’s in business administration from the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi, in 1965. Afterwards, he helped his father expand and strengthen their ancestral business of leather and footwear. He also established a textile company to start his own business.

Hussain’s political journey as an activist with reformist zeal started in 1968 when he joined the Pakistan Muslim League and was appointed joint secretary of the party’s Karachi chapter. He remained a Muslim League member through the 1970s and 1980s. However, his rise to national level began when he joined the PML-N in 1993 and was appointed finance secretary of the party in Sindh. During Sharif’s premiership, he also served as an adviser to Liaquat Jatoi, the then chief minister of Sindh. He became prominent as a business leader when he was elected as president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 1997, serving until May 1999. He was appointed as Sindh governor on June 19, 1999. However, he was soon ousted from office on October 12, when Gen Pervez Musharraf toppled the government in a military coup.

He resisted the military regime of Musharraf partly on account of his loyalty to Nawaz Sharif but also due to his devotion to the cause of democracy. He raised his voice against the dictatorial regime. For this, he was imprisoned. However, he refused to bow before the general. He contested the 2002 general elections from NA-250, Karachi-XII, losing to Abdul Sattar Afghani, a Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal candidate.

In 2013, Nawaz Sharif picked him as the PML-N candidate for president. On the eve of this nomination, he was a senior vice-president of the PML-N and running his own textile business, which he had established in the late 1960s. He defeated Justice Wajih-ud Din Ahmad (retired), the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf candidate, to triumph in the vote on July 30. After a landslide victory, he was sworn in as the twelfth president of Pakistan on September 9.

His bravery in raising a voice against the military regime and subsequent imprisonment, and his decision to contest election against an establishment-backed candidate were decisive and pivotal in his political career.

His candidacy, some analysts point out, was welcomed by the civil society and political analysts as a response to calls from the PPP and the others to look to provinces other than the Punjab. Nawaz Sharif, while nominating Hussain as the party’s candidate, said: “I have chosen a person who is non-controversial.” After he was elected but before he took oath, Hussain resigned from his membership of the PML-N. This was a gesture to establish himself as a non-partisan president. He believed that the president, as head of the state and a symbol of unity of the Republic, was above political partisanship and should not therefore be affiliated with any party. In doing so, he distanced himself from his predecessors, saying he did not want to be “like President Asif Ali Zardari or President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.” During his entire term he maintained good relations with all political parties irrespective of their position.

A group of academicians saw his nomination as a reward for his unwavering loyalty to Nawaz Sharif and his political party. They believe that he was rewarded for being loyal during tumultuous and testing times from 1999 to 2008. His bravery in raising a voice against the military regime and subsequent imprisonment, and his decision to contest election against an establishment-backed candidate were pivotal in his political career. They see his conduct as president as a continuation of this attitude. However, his October 2017 speech, in which he criticised the incumbent government and urged the masses to question the ruling elite about the utility of the Rs 14,800 billion loans incurred by the PML-N led federal government, tells a different story.

The last group of critics not only criticised but also ridiculed him for being ‘invisible’ unlike his recent predecessors—Asif Ali Zardari and Pervez Musharraf, who were continually and constantly in the eye of the storm. They had been in the news for using the presidency as a platform for political activities on the one hand, and their relations with the parliament and the courts on the other. Hussain, however, had doggedly maintained a low profile during his presidency. This could be attributed to two reasons. First, the office of the president was now one of a ceremonial head of the state as all executive powers rested with the prime minister. Second, having served as an advisor to the Sindh chief minister and as a governor, he came with some political baggage.

Hussain remained most loyal to Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N before and during his presidency. He was also less visible than the likes of Zardari and Musharraf. However, his integrity and reputation for being non-partisan was paramount. He enjoyed cordial relations with all the powerful circles, including the parliament (both government and opposition), judiciary and the establishment.

The writer is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad, and a research fellow at PIDE, Islamabad. He can be reached at His X handle: @MazharGondal87

An apolitical president?