Pakistan readies for presidential vote(video)

Other News Materials 6 October 2007 10:50 (UTC +04:00)

( AP ) - Pakistan's military ruler was expected to sweep the vote in Saturday's presidential election but could yet face disqualification by the Supreme Court.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, faces a retired judge and an ally of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in his bid to secure a new five-year term.

But with opposition parties either abstaining or boycotting the election in protest at him running while remaining army chief, he looks bound to win the most votes by far.

The electoral college consists of federal and provincial assemblies. Lawmakers at a joint session of the National Assembly and Senate in Islamabad, and in the four provincial assemblies around the country will vote in a secret ballot.

However, the Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the official results can only be declared after it rules on petitions lodged by Musharraf's opponents that his candidacy is unconstitutional.

Hearings will resume on those petitions Oct. 17, meaning that even if Musharraf wins he would have to wait at least 11 days before knowing whether he could take up office.

His current presidential term expires Nov. 15.

Speculation persists that if he is blocked, he might declare martial law.

Musharraf has seen his popularity plummet since a failed bid to oust the country's top judge in March, and has promised to give up his powerful army post if he wins the election and restore civilian rule.

He says he wants to stay on to continue policies that have turned around Pakistan's economy despite its position on the frontline of the American-led war on terrorism.

The U.S.-allied leader looks set to hatch an alliance with Bhutto after parliamentary elections due by January. On Friday, he signed into law an amnesty quashing corruption charges against her and other politicians.

That persuaded Bhutto's party to withdraw a threat to resign from Parliament, as other opposition parties have done, although they will still abstain from the vote.

Vice chairman of Bhutto's party, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, told the joint session of Parliament before voting began Saturday that it "cannot elect a person in uniform as president."

However, Fahim remained a candidate in the vote, along with Wajihuddin Ahmad, a retired judge who has been nominated by anti-Musharraf lawyers and has emerged as the general's main rival in the vote.

"Today the representatives of the people have to decide whether they need a serving army general or a member from the civil society to be president," Ahmed told The Associated Press.

There was a heavy police presence outside the Parliament building in Islamabad, but the city was quiet. Security forces were also deployed outside the four provincial assemblies across Pakistan.

Some 1,170 legislators are entitled to cast their ballots, but some 200 opposition lawmakers have quit in protest against Musharraf.

Although the Supreme Court has ruled that official results will have to wait its adjudication of the petitions against Musharraf's candidacy, the attorney-general said Friday the unofficial result of the election could still be announced after Saturday's vote.