Court unlikely to annul Musharraf victory

ISLAMABAD Sun Oct 7, 2007 10:43am EDT

1 of 7. Supporters of President Pervez Musharraf celebrate his victory in the presidential election in Multan October 6, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Asim Tanveer

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf must wait at least 10 days for a Supreme Court ruling on the legality of his re-election but the court is unlikely to annul his sweeping victory, analysts said on Sunday.

As expected, Musharraf won almost all the votes in a presidential election, largely boycotted by the opposition, in parliament and the four provincial assemblies on Saturday.

The official result has been postponed until the Supreme Court rules on challenges by the opposition who say Musharraf was ineligible to run while army chief even though he has promised to quit the military in weeks.

The opposition also objected to Musharraf being re-elected by outgoing assemblies -- where Musharraf's coalition has a majority -- just weeks before they are dismissed for a general election due by mid-January.

The court will take up the case again on October 17.

The outcome is of vital interest to the West which wants to see Musharraf maintain nuclear-armed Pakistan's support for efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and tackle al Qaeda.

"Although it's a controversial election, there are lots of problems with it, the parties have been protesting and so on, my guess is it would be very difficult for the Supreme Court to overturn it," said political analyst Shafqat Mahmood.

The Supreme Court, which has been seen as hostile to Musharraf since he tried to dismiss its chief judge in March, had to decide on the eve of the election if it should go ahead.

It ruled it could but a winner would not be declared until it ruled on Musharraf's eligibility.

"The bench having conceded the presidential election should go ahead, had implicitly accepted the propriety (on strictly constitutional/legal grounds) of the outgoing assemblies giving Musharraf a fresh five-year mandate," the Post newspaper said.

"It looks likely that Musharraf is home and dry."

UNCERTAINTY

There were opposition protests on Saturday and police fired tear gas to disperse anti-government lawyers throwing stones at the assembly in one provincial capital.

While few analysts doubt Musharraf has lost much popularity, there have not been big protests, making it less likely the Supreme Court would feel public opinion compelling it to block his re-election, analysts said.

There are also fears about what might happen if the court ruled against him. As president and army chief, he could impose emergency rule or even martial law although he has consistently ruled those options out.

"The Supreme Court may be scared that the situation could go in any direction because they don't expect Musharraf to quit. Nobody in Pakistan expects Musharraf to quit," said another political analyst, Hassan Askari Rizvi.

"My own feeling is it would be a major step by the Supreme court if they undo it now," he said.

But no one is predicting an end to uncertainty.

"I don't see the period of difficulty ending," said Mahmood. "Elections are coming and they're going to be hotly contested."

Rizvi added: "It's going to be a kind of hung parliament and you'll see a lot of maneuvering. Musharraf will continue to manipulate politics and uncertainty will continue."

Musharraf is also facing criticism over a so-called reconciliation ordinance that erased graft charges against former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. That ensured her party did not resign before Saturday's vote, giving it a cloak of legitimacy, and clearing the way for her return from self-exile on October 18.

The United States has been encouraging Musharraf and Bhutto to work together but for now, Musharraf is likely to keep firmly behind his trusted ruling party allies, analysts said.

"He won't be attacking the PPP but he'll be maintaining a safe distance," Rizvi said, referring to Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party.

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