- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) Pakistan’s Supreme Court removed the main obstacle to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s bid for another five years in power when it dismissed legal challenges to his candidacy today.

The judges’ 6-3 ruling was hailed by the government and reviled by the opposition, which vowed to keep fighting to sideline him. It keeps the way clear for the U.S.-allied military leader to contest the Oct. 6 election while still holding the powerful position of army chief.

“Absolutely, there is no hurdle for it,” Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum said. The ruling coalition says it has enough support among the federal and provincial lawmakers who will vote to ensure Musharraf’s victory.

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!”

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, has faced growing political opposition since his failed attempt to oust Pakistan’s top judge in March and is struggling to contain growing Islamic militancy.

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

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.

Rashid Quereshi, Musharraf’s spokesman, said the president “respects and honors” the ruling.

“Justice triumphs,” Quereshi added.

But the ruling bitterly disappointed activists from the opposition and the legal fraternity who saw the case as an acid test of whether the judiciary, rejuvenated by its success in blocking the chief justice’s ouster, could keep the military out of politics.

About 100 supporters from an Islamist opposition party threw tomatoes and eggs at the court’s front gate as they chanted slogans against the president. Police kept them separated from about 100 Musharraf supporters.

Farid Piracha, a lawmaker for the Jamaat-e-Islami party which had filed one of the several petitions challenging Musharraf’s eligibility to run, said he refused to accept the decision.

“The judges have not fulfilled their constitutional obligation,” Piracha said. “Now our fight against dictatorship will be on the streets. … This decision does not reflect the sentiments of the people, and it will not be accepted.”

Javed Hashmi, acting leader of exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party, said their lawmakers would resign from Parliament an opposition strategy aiming to rob the election of legitimacy.

“We thought the judiciary had become independent. But what we have seen today shows that we have a long way to go,” said Hamid Khan, a lawyer for cricket star-turned politician, Imran Khan. “It is a wrong decision and it will be proven wrong by the history of Pakistan.”

On Saturday, the Election Commission is due to assess the eligibility of the 43 presidential candidates. The main challenger to Musharraf is likely to be retired Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed, nominated by lawyers.

Makhdoom Amin Fahim, vice chairman of ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, was also nominated but the PPP has said he would only run if Musharraf were disqualified.

Bhutto’s party is still holding out hope of a power-sharing deal with Musharraf after parliamentary elections due by January. But she told CNN on Thursday that she was increasingly pessimistic.

“I worry that time is running out,” she said.

Bhutto plans to return next month from self-exile. She has threatened to withdraw her lawmakers from Parliament if Musharraf does not compromise. She wants an amendment in the constitution that would allow her to serve a third term as prime minister if elected.

Khursheed Ahmad, a senator for Jamaat-e-Islami party, said they would ask the court to review its decision. Munir Malik, head of the Supreme Court Bar Association said more legal challenges would follow the Election Commission’s expected approval of Musharraf’s nomination.

“The war is not over. It was a skirmish. It was disappointing. But we will be back,” Malik said.

Authorities have gone to great lengths to forestall any street protests planned by Musharraf’s opponents. Some 200 or more opposition activists have been arrested since last Saturday, drawing rare public criticism from the U.S., Pakistan’s main ally.

But on Thursday the Supreme Court ordered their release and said they should be compensated. It also ordered police to lift a security lockdown on the capital.

Associated Press writer Sadaqat Jan contributed to this report.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide