The presidential election had a shadow cast over it by the PPP boycott. But at the end of it, the PML-N nominee, Mamnoon Hussain, still won handsomely and will become the next President of Pakistan when Asif Zardari’s term comes to an end on September 9.

This makes it likely that the PPP will claim the election was rigged. This would present a return to the normal behaviour of the PPP, which the recent general election representing an aberration, in that there was a failure to claim that the election was rigged. Previously, the PPP had made this claim even about the elections it won, including the 1988 and 1993 elections. It claims that the 1970 elections, when it came to power, was the fairest ever conducted, as were those of 1977, which are the only ones conducted by the PPP founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Even if the rigging alleged in that election is conceded, the PPP supporters argue it would still have won.

In the TV interview in which the President disclosed he would not contest for re-election, he said that he did not believe that he had got a mandate of re-election. He also hinted that if he contested, he could make it a dirty election. It is as if, though the PPP candidate was Raza Rabbani, a hint was given of what could have been done. It also provided the average PPP voter with the opportunity of claiming that the poll was allowed to go ahead because the President let it.

An aspect of the poll that has not got sufficient attention has been the lapse of the President’s immunity. The issue of that immunity, is still before the Supreme Court, which is looking into the writing of two letters to the Swiss authorities: the first in accordance with the directive of the Supreme Court and the second maintaining the presidential immunity claimed by the government. That immunity was for acts supposedly committed before he became President.

Immunity is a royal prerogative, though it was claimed for the first time this way. The birth of Queen Elizabeth’s first great-grandchild with the presidential election showed Pakistanis the essential difference between monarchy and a republic. At the great-grandchild’s moment of birth, he has been destined for the throne, though he may well have to wait for it for over 50 years (his grandfather Charles has been waiting for 60).

On the other hand, no one elected was ever marked at birth, neither Mamnoon Hussain, nor Asif Zardari. Thus, if a hereditary monarch was to be involved in something which might be interpreted as a crime, he would at least be in line for the throne, but no one can predict that someone is a future President. At the time of the events involving Zardari in the Swiss cases, no one suspected he was a future President, even though he was already husband of the Prime Minister.

Now that Zardari is leaving office, he will find that the charges against him remain. More important, no owner of the money in the Swiss accounts has been traced. And more essential will be the attitude of the PML-N government. If it chooses to pursue the case against him, it will help it get rid of the “friendly opposition” charge, and it will also make it pursue the treason case against ex-President Pervez Musharraf. Though there is also the consideration, raised by the PPP government while defending President Zardari, that the government might not like to chase a former President in a foreign court, the PML-N made Zardari the target of its corruption charges against the PPP in the election campaign, and would like to prosecute him. It might find itself obliged to, under an order from the Supreme Court. It would not be unwilling, for Zardari was a lever against his wife, PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto, in her lifetime, and it would like the chance to use him as one against Bilawal Bhutto, when he takes over the leadership of the PPP.

Mamnoon may well not like the precedents set by his last two predecessors, who have also been named in murder cases, apart from high treason or corruption cases. He seems a decent enough man, without any previous criminal record, and will thus restore a respectability to the office that has been reduced by the cases against the last two holders. One of the good things about Mamnoon is that he does not need the presidential immunity Zardari did, and which some opined was the fundamental reason he sought the office.

Mamnoon’s main contest proved to be against PTI’s Wajihuddin Ahmad. He obtained 432 electoral votes against 77, leaving 165 votes not cast, almost entirely because of the PPP boycott. That the PTI could raise 77 votes, while the PPP about 165, showed that the process which had started with the general election, that of the replacement of the PPP by the PTI, is far from complete, but is underway. It is not without significance that whereas the last presidential election had been between the PPP and the PML-N, this time the PPP, which had won in 2008; did not even contest.

PTI chief Imran Khan claimed he wanted to boycott, but the candidate did not. Rather ungallantly, he did not mention the arguments which caused him to allow Mr Justice (retd) Wajih to run, allowing the impression to prevail that it was a matter of ego, though this was no explanation of what ego satisfaction there was in being at the receiving end of such a crushing defeat.

Another point this election enabled Imran to make was that the general election itself had been rigged. Previously, this explanation of defeat had only been made by the PPP. It was thus the first time this particular reason was being put forward by a party which was not coming off a stint in power, but was already in the opposition. Perhaps, adding emphasis to this was the fact that the PPP itself had not made this claim, which it had not let victory stop it making about the 1988 and 1993 elections.

The President, as a substitute for the monarch, is supposed to ‘warn, counsel and advise’ the Prime Minister. This will be easier for Mamnoon than Zardari, because he and Mian Nawaz belong to the same party, but it requires that the Prime Minister follow the British example of the Prime Minister meeting the monarch regularly for a one-on-one meeting. Without that, he cannot benefit from the President’s life experience, which is the main asset he brings to his office. It might be premature to think about Mamnoon’s re-election at this stage, though perhaps his age might preclude this, though the possibility would depend on how Mian Nawaz does at the next election.

As it is, even if Parliament runs to its full term, Mamnoon will preside over the next election. Though the selection of caretakers is important, the President is not involved, so the performance of the government is more important, and if it is not up to the mark, Mamnoon might find himself in the same situation as his predecessor, with a successor from another party elected to take over at the end of his term.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.