Pakistan's purged Supreme Court demolished the final hurdle to President Pervez Musharraf's re-election yesterday, paving the way for him to become a civilian leader after eight years of army rule.
Packed with loyalist judges who approved Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency, the court took less than an hour to dismiss a challenge to his victory in last month's contested presidential vote.
Musharraf had vowed to quit as army chief and be sworn in for another five years as soon as his re-election was ratified -- although officials said he would likely wait until early next week to take the oath.
"The petition is dismissed," chief justice Abdul Hameed Dogar ruled.
General Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, has faced intense pressure led by the US to end emergency rule, quit the army, ensure the general elections are fair and free political prisoners.
Pakistani Attorney-General Malik Mohammad Qayyum said Musharraf and the election commission both had to wait for the court to give a written judgment. The chief justice has promised to issue it today.
"My assessment is that he will take oath as civilian president early next week. The chief justice will administer the oath," Qayyum said.
Musharraf's chief legal adviser, Sharifuddin Pirzada, told reporters there was "now no impediment to the election commission issuing a notification" to formally announce the winner of the Oct. 6 presidential vote.
The Supreme Court had already on Monday swatted away five main challenges to Musharraf's victory.
The appeals argued that he was ineligible to stand because he was army chief and that the vote should not have been conducted by the outgoing parliament, which was dissolved last week ahead of Jan. 8 elections.
MARTIAL LAW HEARING
The court adjourned a hearing on a challenge against emergency rule until today, although that too is likely to be dismissed.
Musharraf, wearing a suit instead of his uniform, appeared cheerful earlier in the day when state television showed him swearing in caretaker ministers.
Presidential spokesman Major General Rashid Qureshi said that Musharraf had pledged to hand over the reins of the 500,000-strong army "immediately" after his election win was confirmed.
"The president himself has said repeatedly that he has made up his mind to quit his army post and take the oath as a civilian president as soon as his election victory is notified," Qureshi said before the ruling. "There is no change in that plan. He will abide by that commitment and will immediately take the oath."
International pressure on Musharraf was set to increase later Thursday with the Commonwealth due to decide whether to suspend Pakistan from the 53-nation grouping.
Pakistan's opposition, meanwhile, was trying to make up its mind on whether to boycott the elections in less than two months' time, and all eyes were on former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, leader of the main opposition party until a decision is in.