- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) Pakistan was thrust into political uncertainty on the eve of presidential elections today as the Supreme Court ruled that no winner can be declared until it decides whether President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is an eligible candidate.

The surprise ruling jeopardizes Musharraf’s bid to secure a new five-year term in Saturday’s vote by lawmakers. Despite the uncertainty, Musharraf signed an amnesty dropping corruption charges against ex-premier Benazir Bhutto and other politicians, paving the way for a long-negotiated alliance.

Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the president had signed the National Reconciliation Ordinance, dropping corruption cases dating from between 1986 and 1999. The ordinance also amends rules to protect from fraud parliamentary elections due by January.

An official at the presidency, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, said the ordinace had become law.

There was no immediate reaction from the party of Bhutto, who said Thursday they would need to check the wording of the ordinance once it was issued, but expressed optimism it would open the way for an agreement toward a democratic transition in Pakistan.

Musharraf’s own standing, however, is likely remain unsure for some time yet. His opponents in Saturday’s presidential election are contesting whether he can run for office while still serving as army chief, claiming it is unconstitutional. They had asked the Supreme Court to delay the vote.

Presiding Justice Javed Iqbal said the election by the national and provincial assemblies could take place on schedule. But he said the official results could only be announced after it had ruled on the petitions.

He said hearings will resume on Oct. 17 meaning that even if Musharraf receives the most votes, as widely expected, he would have to wait at least 11 days before knowing whether he could take up office.

His current presidential term expires Nov. 15.

“Pakistan will be in a state of political limbo for quite some time,” said analyst Talat Masood.

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