ISLAMABAD - Outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari said in comments aired Saturday he will not seek to become prime minister and will instead focus on leading his party after stepping down.

Zardari, co-chairman of the Pakistan’s Peoples Party (PPP), vacates the presidency on Sunday (today) and will be replaced the following day by Mamnoon Hussain, a businessman and close ally of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The centre-left PPP ran a rudderless general election campaign earlier this year and was defeated by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N.

“I will not try to become the prime minister of Pakistan,” Zardari, who defied expectations by holding onto power for a record five years, said in excerpts of an interview with a private TV channel. “In my view running the party is more important than becoming prime minister,” he added.

Zardari, a controversial figure who was once sentenced to 11 years in prison for alleged corruption, said that as the presidency was the highest office in Pakistan it would not be appropriate for him to become prime minister.

The widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto leaves office with the country gripped by an energy crisis, a flagging economy and a Taliban insurgency. He is expected to split his time between Pakistan and Dubai as he bids to revive the PPP’s fortunes, along with his son Bilawal, who turns 25 this month, meaning he can run for parliament.

Zardari’s spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, told AFP the president will relocate to Lahore “to start yet another chapter in political struggle” with analysts suggesting he will try to revive the party dominated by the Bhutto-Zardari family.

Many observers see Bilawal as a reluctant heir to the legacy of his assassinated mother Bhutto.

When asked whether he learnt some lessons during his imprisonment, the outgoing president said: “I learnt patience during my 11-year solitary confinement as jail starts to test your nerves after two initial years in detention.” Answering a question, Zardari said that he used to watch foreign TV channels during his imprisonment to keep himself up to date as well as writing his thoughts. He said that the letters and poetry he had written to his wife Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed were now in possession of his children.