Pakistan set to elect new head of state
Likely winner Hussain will shore up the PM's authority and provide stark contrast to Zardari
Boycotted by the opposition Pakistan People's Party, which complained it was not consulted on bringing the election forward from August 6, Sharif's candidate is certain to win.
Mamnoon Hussain is a businessman, close ally of the premier and a long serving member of the main ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), and comes from the southern province of Sindh.
His loyalty to Sharif and low-profile will shore up the prime minister's authority and provide stark contrast to Zardari, considered a sharp political operator behind the scenes.
Supporters say Hussain's election could be important domestically by giving the south some stake in the federal administration, otherwise dominated by Punjab, Sharif's power base.
The PPP withdrew its candidate Raza Rabbani after the Supreme Court accepted a PML-N request to change the date as lawmakers would be busy with pilgrimage and prayer at the end of Ramadan.
Rabbani, a respected senator capable of commanding cross-party support, said the new date would not leave enough time for campaigning in the four provincial capitals and in Islamabad.
Pakistani presidents are elected by the members of four provincial assemblies, and both houses of parliament.
There are two candidates: Hussain and respected, retired Supreme Court judge Wajihuddin Ahmed nominated by the third largest party of cricket hero Imran Khan.
Zafar Iqbal Jhagra, a covering candidate for the PML-N, withdrew his nomination Saturday.
The result is expected to be known later tomorrow.
Constitutional amendments passed by the last PPP government mean that the presidency is again a ceremonial post, a status cemented by the fact that Hussain has little personal clout.
Sharif won a commanding general election victory in May, which marked the first time a Pakistani civilian government completed a full term in office and handed over to another at the ballot box.
After stepping down in September, many expect Zardari to spend significant time abroad out of security concerns and to escape the possibility of legal action for alleged corruption.
His son, Bilawal, is PPP chairman but too young until September to run for parliament and seen by many observers as a reluctant heir to the legacy of his assassinated mother, Benazir Bhutto.
"There is a crisis of leadership in the party," political analyst Hasan Askari said.
"Bilawal is still not in a position to handle party affairs. He needs his father behind him."