Mamnoon who?” was the initial reaction of most when the presidential candidate of PML-N was first mentioned. Even those referring to Wikipedia for help were disappointed when they found nothing. The general public and the man on the street were baffled and most thought it was just media speculation.

The presidency in Pakistan has always been an intriguing place. Either it is occupied by an all-powerful personality or a non-entity. Recently, it has been made into a mockery with personalities openly accused of corruption, disgracing its corridors.

Even though mostly symbolic and not exercising much powers, the President is however the face of our country. Therefore, the personality involved must be above board and someone the whole country can look up to, someone who has earned the right to be in the presidency, someone one can proudly call one’s President.

The responsibility of nominating the President, who represents the whole country, must not lie in the hands of a single individual or a small group of people because their judgement can be clouded or based on self-interest rather than national interest.

PML-N, in this matter, has not shown maturity. Selecting Mr Tarar last time, whose only credential was that he was a family friend, had been their mistake then. This gentleman had no opinion to offer on any matter of importance and had benignly twiddled away his time in the presidency, long after his benefactors had been banished from their homeland. He never even stood up for them, preferring to keep a safe silence rather than rocking the boat.

So much for family friendship!

Many believed that PML-N had learnt a bitter lesson and would not repeat the folly of the past.

But I guess, a leopard cannot change its spots.

If it had been for lack of better candidates, one would have understood and had pity on them. However, having a personality like Mr Sartaj Aziz in their midst, and still settling on such a weak candidate, is mindboggling. A Harvard graduate, bureaucrat, technocrat, legislator and senator who managed the impossible of remaining clean in all capacities, Mr Aziz was the ideal choice for this post.

Any other party would have capitalised on making use of a man of Mr Aziz’s stature. If he had been nominated, he would have been the only President ever who was a part of the Pakistan Movement as a student, working for the creation of Pakistan with the Quaid-i-Azam. A person who has been associated with the Muslim League since over 60 years, who had given not only his youth, but also the best years of his life for his country. And who continues to work selflessly for his homeland even in this senior age. He is a personality nationally and internationally well known and respected. A man of great integrity and high intelligence. One who holds a clean record, a rarity amongst people in power.

Sartaj Aziz was Vice President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). He served as President of the prestigious Society for International Development (SID) for many years. He is the author of several books and hundreds of articles on eradication of hunger and poverty alleviation.

A man fit to be in the presidency. A man of international stature.

Sartaj Aziz has always sacrificed self-interest for his country. He gave up a well established UN job in Rome, to return to Pakistan to serve his country. With PML-N he has worked tirelessly since 30 years and they have made use of his knowledge and experience. His loyalty did not waver even when he was not made the President last time, despite assurances from the top leadership. He played a major role in writing the manifesto of the party, which resulted in such a landslide victory for PML-N in the recent elections.

And he has done all this quietly, never blowing his own trumpet, never losing his cool, always positive even in his criticism, always patriotic in his actions.

The credentials of Mr Sartaj Aziz are obvious to all. But sometimes, having such high credentials can be an impediment, rather than as asset in this land of the pure. It might make the powers that be a trifle insecure.

For a person like Mr Aziz, who never used any protocol when he was a Finance Minister and later Foreign Minister, who never received any plot from the government for his services, who even now goes around without any fanfare, being in the presidency or not will not make any difference. His stature in the eyes of his countrymen has risen even higher.

But it will make a difference to Pakistan.

It sends a message that a lifetime of devoted service to your country is not enough when it comes to competing for the presidency.

So, while PPP top leadership appeared in full strength with its strong candidate, Mr Raza Rabbani, in comparison, the PML-N stalwarts, as if still unsure of their decision, were conspicuous by their absence when Mr Mamnoon came to submit his papers. Happy but clearly at sea during the formality of submitting nomination papers, one wondered how he would fare in handling matters of national interest while in the house on the hill, that is, if he makes it there.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Sydney, Australia.