Musharraf Gets Court's OK for October Election

Pakistan's Supreme Court ruled 6-3 Friday that President Pervez Musharraf is allowed to contest the Oct. 6 election, dismissing legal challenges that he could not run while remaining army chief. The ruling virtually assures Musharraf will remain Pakistan's leader.

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In Pakistan, opposition efforts to block President Pervez Musharraf's reelection ran into trouble today. The country's supreme court rejected legal challenges against his candidacy. He's unpopular and he's faced with security problems, but Musharraf now appears set to serve another five years in office.

NPR's Philip Reeves has the story from Islamabad.

PHILIP REEVES: They waited outside all morning and most of the afternoon. No one even took a sip of water, despite the late summer heat. It's Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. The small crowd kept its spirits up with a favorite chant.

(Soundbite of people chanting)

REEVES: But when the verdict came, the mood changed.

(Soundbite of protest)

REEVES: Many outside Pakistan's supreme court today were also among those who took to the streets when Musharraf tried to sack the chief justice in March. When the court reinstated the judge in July, defying Pakistan's ruling generals in full view of the world, some thought Pakistan had changed forever.

They included Roedad Khan, a former top Pakistani government bureaucrat. He was profoundly disappointed with today's ruling.

Mr. ROEDAD KHAN (Political Analyst): I thought the supreme court was a supreme court reborn. We thought the judges of the supreme court had learned their lesson, you know? But events have brewed around the world.

REEVES: Musharraf's opponents believe it's illegal for him to run for president at the same time as being army chief. In fact, they say the law bans him running for political office for two years after giving up the army job. That's why they petitioned the supreme court. The court didn't rule on the substance of these claims. It focused on whether the petitions met the legal requirements for the supreme court to consider them. Six out of the panel of nine judges decided they did not, to the alarm of lawyer Ahmed Awai(ph).

Mr. AHMED AWAI (Lawyer): We are grossly disappointed. Justice should not be sacrificed on the order of technicalities.

REEVES: Musharraf now seems clear to stand for reelection in just over one week. He's expected to win. He'll do so while remaining army chief, though he signaled he'll take off the uniform before the end of November, a move his aides portray as part of a transition to civilian rule and democracy. Defeated in court today, Musharraf's opponents say they'll now pressure Pakistan's election commission to reject his nomination. Most of them, including Roedad Khan, insist the campaign to oust Musharraf will continue.

Mr. KHAN: The legal battle - this is over now. But this battle will now be fought on the streets of Pakistan, you know? There is where it will be fought.

REEVES: Yet, the streets of Pakistan haven't really engaged in this affair. They were quiet, even after the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was deported within hours of returning to Pakistan this month. True, the security services rounded up many hundreds of Sharif's political supporters beforehand and, yet again, flooded the streets with police. But generally, the opposition parties are divided and disorganized.

(Soundbite of protest)

REEVES: Today, shortly after the verdict, there was some street action, the rare appearance of some of Musharraf's supporters celebrating the verdict before the cameras and led by Naya Mutaza(ph).

Ms. NAYA MUTAZA (President Musharraf's Supporter): It is not only success of President Musharraf, it is success of Pakistani. All are very happy to see.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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Pakistan's Musharraf Cleared to Keep Army Post

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf is free to run for another term while holding on to his post as army chief, the country's Supreme Court said Friday, in a move that angered opposition leaders who had been demanding he relinquish control of the military.

Opposition leaders said they would keep fighting to sideline Musharraf after the judges' 6-3 ruling that removed the last major obstacle to his seeking another five-year term in an Oct. 6 election.

Presiding Judge Rana Bhagwandas gave no immediate reason for the ruling, which drew howls of protests from lawyers in the gallery of the packed, cavernous courtroom.

"These petitions are held to be non-maintainable," Bhagwandas said, to chants of, "Shame, shame!" and "Go, Musharraf, go!"

Critics Maintain Miliary Post Disqualifies Musharraf

While the government has insisted all along that Musharraf is a qualified candidate, critics have countered that he cannot run because he has retained his military position.

The ruling coalition says it has enough support among federal and provincial lawmakers who will vote to ensure victory for Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup.

The general has faced growing political opposition since March when he failed in a bid to oust Pakistan's top judge. He has also struggled to contain growing Islamic extremism.

With his popularity and clout eroding, the general has said he would leave his army role if he wins the election, restoring civilian rule in a country that has lurched between unstable elected governments and military's regimes during its 60-year history.

Rashid Qureshi, Musharraf's spokesman, said the president "respects and honors" the ruling.

"Justice triumphs," Qureshi added.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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