- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) Pakistan’s Gen. Pervez Musharraf swept today’s presidential election, according to unofficial results, but the Supreme Court could still disqualify the military leader in the vote boycotted by nearly all of Pakistan’s opposition.

The election by federal and provincial lawmakers was a one-sided affair. Just over half the eligible lawmakers turned out to vote, with nearly all the opposition parties abstaining or boycotting to protest Musharraf’s bid for a new five-year term while still army chief.

In total, Musharraf won 671 votes, compared with just eight for his main rival, retired judge Wajihuddin Ahmad. Six ballots were invalid, election officials said.

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the official results can only be declared after it rules on complaints lodged by Musharraf’s opponents that his candidacy is unconstitutional.

The complete unofficial results were announced just 80 minutes after the five hours of voting, broadcast on national television, was done and ruling-party lawmakers were claiming victory even before counting began. Only a handful of the government’s opponents were among the 685 of the 1,170 eligible lawmakers to vote.

“Everything about the election was constitutional, legal, moral and legitimate,” Sher Afgan Khan Niazi, the minister for parliamentary affairs, told Associated Press.

But the opposition contended the ballot was invalid.

“We will not accept him as president. He flouted the constitution, and he is a person who has hardly any respect for the rule of law,” said Sadique ul-Farooq, a leader of the party of exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The United States declined comment on today’s vote.

“Those are unofficial results,” State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson said. “To comment, we’re waiting on the Pakistani Supreme Court.”

Hearings on the petitions challenging Musharraf’s candidacy will resume on Oct. 17, meaning if Musharraf wins he would have to wait at least 11 days before knowing whether he could take office.

His current presidential term expires Nov. 15.

Musharraf has seen his popularity plummet since a failed bid to oust the country’s top judge in March, and has promised to give up his powerful army post if he wins the election and restore civilian rule.

He says he wants to stay on to continue policies that have turned around Pakistan’s economy despite its position on the front line of the American-led efforts against terrorism and rising Islamic militancy.

The Supreme Court may be reluctant to overturn Musharraf’s victory in the ballot.

“Unseating an elected president, who is still in his general’s uniform and is a powerful chief of the army staff, would be hard to contemplate in a country where the armed forces have traditionally dominated politics and dictated policies,” columnist Rahimullah Yousafzai wrote in The News.

It appears likely Musharraf will form an alliance with exiled Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto after parliamentary elections due by January. Yesterday, he signed into law an amnesty quashing corruption charges against her and other politicians.

Bhutto’s party abstained from today’s voting but did not resign from parliament as other opposition factions did over Musharraf’s candidacy.

Chanting slogans against Musharraf, dozens of lawyers clashed with police outside the provincial assembly in the northwestern city of Peshawar. They burned an armored police vehicle, threw rocks at officers, and burned an effigy of Musharraf before police swinging batons dispersed them.

Three lawyers and a policeman were injured in the clash, witnesses said.

But many Pakistanis were cynical about the election.

“This is just a drama, not an election,” said Zafar Iqbal, 28, a shop owner in the eastern city of Multan.

In Quetta, school teacher Ali Ahmad said he had no interest in the vote: “All politicians are the same whether it is Nawaz Sharif, Benazir or Musharraf. They are the enemy of poor people.”

Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad, Sadaqat Jan and Zarar Khan contributed to this report.

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