Thu, Oct 18, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Top court hears Musharraf opponents

UNCERTAINTY The Pakistani president has promised to quit as army chief if re-elected, but opponents argue he should have been disqualified from the Oct. 6 vote


Pakistan's top court heard challenges yesterday to the legality of the re-election of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a day before former prime minister Benazir Bhutto returned from exile.

Musharraf's opponents have petitioned the Supreme Court, claiming that the US-allied strongman was ineligible to contest the Oct. 6 vote.

Government officials insist the poll was held legally, however, the court has ruled that Musharraf's victory can only become official once it rules on the complaints.

The challenge and other politically sensitive cases pending before the court have injected more instability into Pakistan's already turbulent politics.

Opposition parties boycotted the presidential election, leaving Musharraf to gather an overwhelming majority of the votes cast by federal and provincial lawmakers.

The opposition argues it was unconstitutional for an outgoing parliament to choose a new president and that Musharraf is disqualified under a bar on public servants seeking elected office.

Musharraf has promised to quit his powerful position as army chief, but only after securing another five-year presidential mandate. His term and that of parliament expire on Nov. 15.

It was unclear when the court would rule on the case, which has injected more uncertainty into Pakistan's already turbulent politics.

When hearings resumed yesterday, opposition lawyers requested that all the court's justices decide whether Musharraf should be disqualified.

Eleven judges are hearing the case.

"This is a historic burden and the entire court should share it," said Hamid Khan, attorney for a retired judge who contested the presidential election but received only a handful of votes.

The court said it would pass the request to Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

Chaudhry earlier this year defeated an attempt by Musharraf to fire him, sparking mass protests and spawning a campaign for the restoration of democracy.

Yesterday morning, an estimated 2,000 supporters of exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and former cricket star-turned politician Imran Khan marched in separate processions to the court building.

The demonstrators waved party flags and portraits of their leaders and chanted slogans including "Musharraf is America's pet dog" and "Plunderers of the national wealth should be punished not pardoned."

The latter was a reference to a corruption amnesty that Musharraf granted to Bhutto and other politicians last week, but which would not include Sharif.

Bhutto was expected to arrive in Karachi today.

Musharraf has held talks with the two-time prime minister that could see them form a liberal, pro-Western alliance after the elections are complete. Both are echoing US calls for moderates in Pakistan to join forces to combat extremism.

However, the Supreme Court was also examining the legality of the amnesty, which paved the way for her return from eight years of self-exile.

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