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Pak amends poll rules
Hurdles in Mush’s way removed
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

The Election Commission of Pakistan has amended the rules governing presidential candidates to pave the way for Pervez Musharraf’s re-election as president for five more years, a minister said on Sunday.

Dr Sher Afgan, federal minister for parliamentary affairs, said the EC has amended rules for presidential election exempting the candidates from constitutional disqualification to contest for two years after retirement from government service.

The disclosure sparked a fierce controversy with leading jurists and retired judges questioning the validity of the reported notification just when the Supreme Court was due to start hearing on Monday in six petitions challenging Musharraf’s eligibility to be a candidate.

Law experts said Article 63 of the Constitution that prescribed qualification and disqualification to be member of the National Assembly equally applied to presidential candidates and the EC has no authority to overrule a constitutional provision.

“Now Article 63 does not apply to the President. Its clauses which prevent government servants from participating in elections unless they have been retired for at least two years, and stop anyone who holds an office of profit in the service of Pakistan from participating in elections, also do not apply to the President,” Afgan said.

Afgan said Musharraf approved the new rules a week ago on a summary sent by the commission that was based on previous judgments of the Supreme Court. Kunwar Dilshad, secretary, Election Commission, endorsed Afgan’s statement and disclosed that the notification amending the rules was approved on September 10.

Both Afgan and Dilshad failed to explain why the so-called notification was kept in wraps for a week but Dilshad said the text of the notification would be released on Monday.

Meanwhile, the EC is poised to announce the much-delayed schedule for presidential election on Tuesday though the mandatory 30-day period for holding of election began on September 15.

The opposition grouping, All-Parties Democratic Movement (APDM), at an emergency meeting here on Sunday expressed outrage over the notification saying the Election Commission has seriously compromised its independence and ability to hold free and fair elections by submitting to Musharraf’s expedience.

The intervention by the Election Commission into a tagging constitutional debate and the court battle gives a new twist to what is being aptly described as mother of all elections that would not only determine the fate of Musharraf but future of Pakistani politics as well. It is meant to be a preemptive strike to upset the court petitions and bring the issue into the realm of the Election Commission.

The APDM, which is already licking its wounds in the aftermath of exiled premier Nawaz Sharif’s botched attempt to return to Pakistan because of strong-arm handling by the government to block any public reception, was taken by surprise at Musharraf’s new move buffeted by the Election Commission’s covert assistance.

Though the grouping vowed to challenge the constitutional validity of the notification in the Supreme Court, the only other option left to it is the use of resignation card by divesting the election through present assembly of any credibility.

Meanwhile, Musharraf has told leadership of the ruling PML that he would shed uniform and name a new army chief within the next few days.

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