Pakistani legislators have began voting for a new president, marking an end to the five-year term of outgoing Asif Ali Zardari whose party lost May's general elections.

Mamnoon Hussain, a businessman from the southern city of Karachi and close ally of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was predicted to become the new head of state after Tuesday's vote.

A long-serving member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), Hussain addressed a party meeting in Islamabad on Monday.

"Describing the office of president as the symbol of federation, the presidential candidate pledged to serve the country and its people in his capacity as president," a statement issued by Sharif's office said.

Some analysts say that the election is "more or less a settled issue".

"There is no excitement in it because it has become a one-sided affair, and the powers of the president are very limited and nominal'' said Pakistani political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi

Sharif will remain the most powerful figure in the civilian government in Pakistan, a key ally of the US.

Opposition boycott

Controversy broke out last week when the Supreme Court agreed to a request by the PML-N to move forward the election - originally scheduled for August 6 - because some legislators wanted to travel to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The country's former ruling party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which has the second highest number of seats in the National Assembly, announced that it would boycott the presidential election in response to the court's ruling.

The PPP complained that the judges ruled without hearing from the opposition, and the new election date did not give the party enough time to campaign.

The court's decision sparked criticism from outside the party as well from critics who have long warned about the Supreme Court's tendency to overreach its mandate.

Source: Agencies