ISLAMABAD - President Asif Ali Zardari steps down on Sunday (tomorrow) having defied expectations by holding onto power for a record five years but facing criticism for leaving the economy and security in a shocking state.

According to media reports, his successor is Mamnoon Hussain, a businessman and close ally of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif whose low-key persona and lack of personal power base puts him in stark contrast to Zardari.

Allies praise the outgoing Parliament for passing more legislation than any of its predecessors, including laws empowering women against domestic violence and sexual harassment.

In 2010, Zardari relinquished much of his power to the Prime Minister, rolling back on decades of meddling by military rulers in an effort to institutionalise Parliamentary democracy.

But critics say he showed no leadership in the face of economic decline and spiralling insecurity, laying accusations of poor governance and rampant corruption at his door. Zardari spoke of the need for reconciliation at a farewell lunch hosted for him by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which earned praise from commentators for the dignity of the handover.

“Today we need reconciliation. Everyone needs it, so we have to work together under your leadership. We will strengthen our country. We cannot afford divisions,” Zardari said.

“It is a question of our future generation. History will not forgive us if we do not realise the situation and the threats (Pakistan faces). We have to save Pakistan from future threats.” Aides deny that Zardari, unpopular and divisive within the PPP, will spend most of his time abroad and insist that he will base himself in Pakistan and try to revive the party. The centre-left PPP ran a rudderless general election campaign earlier this year and has been thrust into its greatest crisis, suffering a crushing electoral defeat without a true leader. His son, Bilawal, is Chairman but can only run for Parliament after he turns 25 on September 21 and is seen by many observers as a reluctant heir to the legacy of his assassinated mother Benazir Bhutto. His younger sister, Aseefa, publicly registered to vote this week and some observers believe she has more of the charisma and political hunger needed to replace her mother. Zardari s spokesman Farhatullah Babar told that Zardari will relocate to Lahore “to start yet another chapter in political struggle” and analysts suggest he will try to revive the party dominated by the Bhutto-Zardari family. He is due to vacate the Presidency for the last time on Sunday to a guard of honour. Hussain is to be sworn in on Monday.

Meanwhile, contrary to the past traditions, the swearing in of the President elect Mamnoon Hussain will be attended by a number of dignitaries on September 9th at Aiwan-e-Sadr for which invitations have been issued. It will be for the first time that the oath-taking of the President will be attended by people from across the political divide.  The President-elect has already arrived from Karachi and is lodged at the Aiwan-e-Sadr.  Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry will administer the oath of office.

According to sources, the outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari, former President Rafiq Tarar, four former Prime Ministers Mir Zafarullah Jamali, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Parvez Ashraf have been invited to the long awaited function. Sources said invitations have also been issued to heads of almost all the political parties.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Chairman of the Senate Syed Nayyar Hussain Bokhari, Speaker of National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq, Federal Ministers, Provincial Governors and Chief Ministers, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, three Services Chiefs, senior officials and  diplomats based in Islamabad have been invited. The sources revealed that 500 invitation cards are being issued.

In addition to the first lady Begum Mamnoon Hussain, three sons of the President, their wives, close relatives and friends have also been invited.