( AP ) - Pakistan's Supreme Court ruled that the country can hold its presidential election Saturday but may only declare the winner after the court rules on whether President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the expected victor, is eligible to run.
Friday's surprise ruling jeopardizes the U.S.-backed leader's bid to secure a new five-year term in the vote by lawmakers.
Presiding Justice Javed Iqbal said hearings on petitions filed by Musharraf's opponents claiming Musharraf is ineligible will resume on Oct. 17 - meaning that even if Musharraf secures the most votes, he will have to wait at least 11 days before knowing whether he could take up office.
His current term expires Nov. 15.
The ruling means Pakistan will be in political limbo after the election, and it clouds the prospect of a power-sharing deal between Musharraf and former premier Benazir Bhutto.
Musharraf and Bhutto, both liberal and pro-U.S., appeared Thursday to have agreed on the text of an ordinance granting amnesty to former officials, which would quash long-standing corruption cases against Bhutto and other politicians and smoothing the way for her planned return from exile on Oct. 18.
The government quickly said it would respect the court ruling.
"We have always accepted and respected court rulings, and we also accept today's ruling," Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim told The Associated Press.
Asked about the prospect of political uncertainty after the vote, Azim said, "The Supreme Court must have thought about it, but one has to go by whatever the court rules."