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Musharraf sweeps vote

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf won most votes in a presidential election on Saturday but he must wait for the Supreme Court to confirm the legality of his bid before being declared the winner.

Supporters of President Pervez Musharraf celebrate his victory in the presidential election in Multan October 6, 2007. REUTERS/Asim Tanveer

His landslide in an election largely boycotted by the opposition was widely expected. Members of the two-chamber parliament and four provincial assemblies voted for president.

The ruling coalition’s majority ensured that Musharraf beat two rival candidates. However, his fate will not be known until October 17 at the earliest when the Supreme Court is due to consider whether he was eligible to stand while still army chief.

Doubts over the final outcome have added to uncertainty in the nuclear-armed Muslim country entering a transition period from military to civilian rule which will culminate in a national election due by mid-January.

In the two houses of parliament, Musharraf won 252 of 257 votes cast. His closest rival, Wajihuddin Ahmed, won two votes, while three votes were rejected, Chief Election Commissioner Qazi Muhammad Farooq told the National Assembly.

U.S. ally Musharraf, who took power in a coup in 1999, won most votes in the provincial assemblies and finished with 384 electoral college votes out of 702, according to a Reuters tally.

“It’s a very historic day,” Musharraf told a news conference.

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“This is the first step towards the final phase of transition back to an absolutely normal government system,” he said, referring to the vote and a promise to quit the army by November 15 and be sworn in as a civilian leader.

Lawyers, who have led a campaign against Musharraf in recent months, held protests in the four provincial capitals -- Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta.

TEAR GAS

Police fired tear gas to disperse lawyers throwing stones at the assembly in Peshawar where protesters burned an effigy of the president.

The Supreme Court decided on Friday the vote could go ahead but no winner could be declared until it had ruled on Musharraf’s eligibility following a challenge by Ahmed, a retired judge nominated by anti-government lawyers.

Asked what he would do if he were ruled ineligible, Musharraf said: “Let them come to the decision and then we will decide.”

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“If the majority votes for something, it is the rule of the day, that’s democracy. There’s no problem,” he said, when asked about the legitimacy of the vote.

Nevertheless, there was speculation about how Musharraf might react if the court thwarted his re-election. As long as he is army chief, he could declare emergency rule or martial law -- options he has said he would not take.

The outcome is of vital interest to the West, which needs Pakistan’s support for efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and tackle the threat from al Qaeda.

More than 160 assembly members from an opposition alliance led by Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf ousted in 1999 and later exiled, had resigned their seats in protest.

On the eve of the election, Musharraf averted resignations by the biggest opposition party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.

PPP members abstained instead, walking off the floor of the National Assembly before voting began even though the party had fielded a candidate.

Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony and Kamran Haider

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