File photo. Photograph:( PTI )
Pakistan's election commission on Wednesday accepted the nomination papers of the three presidential candidates after the Opposition parties failed to field a joint nominee for the top post, which is now expected to go to Prime Minister Imran Khan's party candidate.
Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has fielded Arif Alvi against Pakistan Peoples Party's (PPP) leader Aitzaz Ahsan and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
The presidential election will be held on September 4. Incumbent President Mamnoon Hussain's five-year term will end on September 9.
The nomination papers were scrutinised on Wednesday by Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan after the candidates appeared before the electoral body.
The Opposition remains divided over fielding a consensus candidate as the PPP led by former president Asif Ali Zardari has decided that it would not withdraw its presidential candidate Ahsan.
The PML-N has expressed reservations over the nomination of Ahsan, who had spoken against jailed former prime minister and supreme leader of PML-N Nawaz Sharif and his wife Kulsoom's ailment.
The other Opposition parties have fielded the JUI-F chief Rehman as their presidential candidate.
An All Parties Conference of the Opposition held at the resort town of Murree on August 25 failed to name a joint presidential candidate.
If all the Opposition parties are united, the difference of votes between the PTI and that of the Opposition would hardly be 8 to 10, The Express Tribune reported last week.
Addressing the media after his nomination papers were accepted, PTI's Alvi, a dentist, confidently claimed that he would emerge victorious "by a large margin".
Ahsan termed the upcoming elections as a "vote of conscience".
The senior PPP leader said some PTI and JUI members may support him on September 4.
"This is a secret vote, not a party vote," the leading lawyer said.
Referring to the earlier stalemate in deciding a joint candidate, Ahsan lamented that the Opposition will be at an disadvantage.
He also hoped that lawmakers will choose the "right" candidate to represent the nation and rejected claims of horse-trading.
The PPP leader also said he hoped that Rehman, a cleric, would withdraw in his favour.
"Fazlur Rehman is my friend and, as he says that any hasty decision should not be taken as final, I hope that he will withdraw in my favour," he said.
Candidates have time until tomorrow to withdraw their nomination papers, after which the final list will be made public on the same day.
The president is elected by an electoral college comprising members of the Senate, National Assembly, and the four provincial assemblies. Voting is held through a secret ballot.
The new president will assume charge on September 8.