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Pak in limbo, wait for court verdict

Islamabad, Oct. 7 (AP): Pakistan today entered political limbo, caught between General Pervez Musharraf’s presidential election win and a future court ruling on whether he was even eligible to run.

Yesterday, Musharraf scored an overwhelming victory in a ballot of lawmakers boycotted by much of the Opposition in protest against the US-allied military leader.

The country must now wait at least 10 days for the supreme court to either confirm the result or disqualify Musharraf because of his retention of his powerful role as army chief.

While many observers doubt that the judges will dare to rule against the military strongman, The Nation newspaper today printed a cartoon on showing Musharraf frowning toward the supreme court, his fingers crossed behind his back.

“The government cannot afford to take the courts for granted,” an editorial in the Lahore-based daily said.

Yesterday’s election has gone down among the most controversial in Pakistan’s turbulent 60-year history, when the military has regularly intervened in politics.

Musharraf won 671 votes, while a retired judge who was his main rival received just eight. In all, 1,170 federal and provincial lawmakers were eligible to vote.

Musharraf dismissed criticism that the boycott had undermined the legitimacy of the election.

“Democracy means majority, whether there is Opposition or no Opposition,” he told reporters on the lawn of his official residence. “A majority, a vast majority, have voted for me and therefore that result is the result.”

But an Opposition alliance including the party of Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister Musharraf toppled in a 1999 coup, said the vote was illegitimate.

“The election has no moral or constitutional value,” Raja Zafarul Haq, a leader of the alliance, today said.

He said leaders of the All Parties Democratic Movement would meet in the coming days to plan protests against Musharraf, though its strike call yesterday was widely ignored.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan today criticised Musharraf’s election, saying he was not eligible under the constitution to have run in the vote.

“Neither constitutionally nor according to political traditions and values, in any way, was he eligible to become a candidate or be elected in presidential elections,” Iqbal Haider, secretary general of the commission, told a news conference.

The Supreme Court has already dismissed several complaints that Musharraf was ineligible under a constitutional bar on public servants running for office.

But while considering fresh petitions on Friday, it decided that while the election should go ahead, the results cannot be declared official until it has issued its verdict.

That took the edge off government celebrations marked with firework displays in Islamabad and each of Pakistan’s four provincial capitals yesterday.

Still, Musharraf allies took heart that the court had allowed the vote to be held among lawmakers chosen in flawed 2002 polls rather than wait for parliamentary elections due by January, where his allies may lose ground.

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