Tue, Sep 18, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Pakistani court set to hear petitions against president


Pakistan's Supreme Court was set to hear a slew of petitions against President General Pervez Musharraf yesterday in a new challenge to the US-allied leader at a court that has already shaken his authority.

A nine-member panel of judges has taken up the six petitions, including one by Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's largest Islamic group, urging the court to disqualify Musharraf as a candidate in upcoming presidential elections.

The presidential vote by lawmakers is likely early next month, but Musharraf has not yet indicated publicly whether he will leave his job as army chief first.

In its petition, Jamaat-e-Islami said that a 2004 parliamentary act that enabled Musharraf to become president while he still held the army chief post was against the Constitution.

Musharraf's "candidature for the election of the office of the president of Pakistan ... for the next term is void, malafide, unconstitutional, without lawful authority and of no legal effect," the petition said.

It was unclear when the court would make a ruling.

The outcome could have a significant impact on Pakistan's turbulent politics as Musharraf maneuvers to extend his eight-year rule. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is also planning her return from exile Oct. 18 to contest parliamentary elections that must be held by mid-January.

Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 when he toppled the government of the then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The president-general's authority slipped when he tried to remove Supreme Court chief judge Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry this March, sparking a pro-democracy protest movement. The court later reinstated Chaudhry.

Imran Khan, another opposition lawmaker, is among the five other people whose petitions were scheduled for hearing at the Supreme Court yesterday.

In another legal challenge, Sharif's party has petitioned the Supreme Court to begin contempt proceedings against the government for deporting Sharif to Saudi Arabia last Monday hours after he arrived back in Pakistan after seven years in exile. On Aug. 23, the court had ruled that Sharif had the right to return.

A hearing on that petition has not yet been fixed.

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