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Last Updated: Friday, 28 September 2007, 18:15 GMT 19:15 UK
Analysis: Musharraf's court win
By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Karachi

President Musharraf's supporters welcome the court ruling
President Musharraf's supporters were ecstatic after the ruling
Pakistan's Supreme Court has endorsed a bid by President Pervez Musharraf to run for another term as president but other obstacles may emerge for the country's military ruler.

Has it backed the president on a series of legal technicalities - thereby extricating itself from a difficult constitutional clash - or has it issued a definitive judgement which permanently stymies efforts by the opposition to stop him from running?

At the moment, the answer to that is unclear, and a detailed judgment may be many days, or even weeks, away.

The three-paragraph order said that the petitions, filed by opposition groups seeking the court's endorsement of the law that prevents a government servant from holding public office until two years after his retirement, were "not maintainable".

Baffled and sore

It comes a day after Gen Musharraf was formally nominated as a candidate in the presidential election, due on 6 October.

Lawyers protest against the court ruling
Many others were angered by the court's decision

It also comes after a six-month campaign by lawyers, civil society and opposition groups that saw the Supreme Court in August overturn Gen Musharraf's decision to suspend the country's chief justice.

Understandably, the ruling has dashed the hopes of groups opposed to Gen Musharraf's rule, and has left them baffled and sore.

The obvious conclusion they have drawn is that the last legal hurdles in the way of Gen Musharraf's re-election have been removed.

"There cannot be a more despicable judgment than this," Roedad Khan, a former bureaucrat and newspaper columnist, told a Pakistani TV channel.

Many opposition groups said the order signified a return to the "doctrine of necessity", a legal concept that Pakistani courts used in 1950s and '60s to justify rule by bureaucrats and generals.

Likewise, Gen Musharraf's supporters described it as a "victory" for the constitution. They say that the constitution allows him, a serving general, to run for president.

They also argue that the same parliament which elected him in 2002 can elect him for another five years before its term ends in November.

Challenge afoot

Significantly, however, the court order is vague on whether Gen Musharraf has the go-ahead from the judiciary for his re-election.

KEY DATES
2 Oct: Date main opposition alliance to begin boycotting assemblies
06 Oct: Presidential vote to be held, election commission says
18 Oct: Date ex-PM Benazir Bhutto has set for her homecoming
15 Nov: Parliamentary term ends and general election must be held

Legal experts say the ruling is based on "technicalities" rather than the merits of the case.

As such, they argue, the political aspects of Gen Musharraf's re-election have been left to the parliament and politicians to decide.

This brings into focus legal and political developments expected over the next week.

Legally, Saturday may be an important day, as the election commission will scrutinise the nomination papers of candidates.

Some lawyers and opposition groups have indicated they will "lay siege" to the election commission to prevent it from finalising Gen Musharraf's candidature.

Meanwhile, the lawyers' candidate, Justice Wajihuddin Ahmad, is likely to challenge Gen Musharraf's candidature on the same legal grounds on which the opposition's petitions were filed in court.

Home ground

Legal experts say one reason why the Supreme Court refused to consider those grounds was because the complainants were not the "aggrieved" party.

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Pervez Musharraf
The ruling has dashed the hopes of groups opposed to Gen Musharraf's rule

When the petitions were filed, Gen Musharraf was not even a candidate.

But Mr Ahmad is qualified as an "aggrieved" party by virtue of being a candidate himself.

This is what the lawyers representing the opposition groups meant when they repeatedly said during the week that they expected to go into a "second round of litigation".

Politically, the opposition alliance, the APDM, has decided to resign its parliamentary seats on 2 October.

Although they do not expect this move to prevent Gen Musharraf's re-election, they believe it will erode the credibility of the election itself.

The APDM has also decided that on the same day, one of its component alliances, the MMA, will advise the governor of the North West Frontier Province - which it controls - to dissolve the provincial assembly.

This will take one of the four federating units of the country out of the electoral college that elects the president.

While this is unlikely to prevent Gen Musharraf from going ahead with his election, it could seriously undermine his legitimacy as the president of the entire country.

It could also send the "wrong" messages to Balochistan and Sindh provinces where provincial rights have remained a dominant issue.

But after Friday's court ruling, Gen Musharraf must be feeling pretty safe on the legal front as well as in terms of his parliamentary support.

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