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Poll Petitions Against Mush
Larger SC bench begins hearing
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

A nine-member larger bench of the Supreme Court on Monday began hearing of constitutional petitions challenging the eligibility of President General Pervez Musharraf to contest election for another term with indication from the court that the case would be decided by the end of this week.

The bench turned down plea by petitioners to further expand the bench to full court in view of the significance of the case. Judges were divided over the issue and finally decided to keep the present bench, after which Akram Sheikh, counsel for Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of the MMA, began his arguments. The court decided to sit on a daily basis till Friday to hear the case.

It rose for the day in high drama when government lawyer Ahmed Raza Kasuri passed personal remarks and shouted at Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan while questioning his credentials as amicus curiae to assist the court. Kasuri said he had faced Aitzaz's leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and sent him to gallows (on charge of ordering murder of his father).

On Kasuri's assertion that he is objecting to the presence of Aitzaz at the instructions of the government, Aitzaz said Kasuri is conveying him threats from the presidency. He said he is there to assist the court at its direction. He withdrew his name as amicus curiae and walked out of the court in protest, saying the court has allowed Kasuri to hurl insults, indignities and threats at him.

Akram Shaikh described Kasuri's conduct as extremely objectionable. He said he had not raised any objection to another amicus curiae Hafeez Pirzada, who had appeared on behalf of President Musharraf in 2002 to defend his referendum. Shaikh said the court’s three jurists - Aitzaz, Pirzada and S.M. Zafar - are highly respectable counsels.

The presiding judge Rana Bhagwandas, while adjourning the hearing till next day, turned down the withdrawal of Aitzaz as amicus curiae and directed him to continue to assist the court along with two others.

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‘Poll rules changed on court orders’

Responding to the fierce countrywide denunciation of its notification to exclude President Gen Pervez Musharraf from disqualification under Article 43 to contest election, the Election Commission today denied that rules changed were Musharraf-specific. “The Presidential Election Rules have been amended under the Supreme Court’s 2002 and 2005 decisions,” the commission said in a statement, adding that all candidates contesting the presidential election will benefit from it. It further said the rules had been changed in the light of two Supreme Court judgements delivered in 2002 and 2005.

The exclusion from Article 43 would spare Musharraf from being disqualified as a candidate for holding an office of profit in service of the government and the two-year ban to contest the election if he quits the army post.

Under the new rules, he could keep the army post at the time of the filing of nomination papers but would have to quit it after the elections while taking fresh oath of office.

Opposition leaders, including PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto, MMA chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Imran Khan, denounced the notification as “pre-poll” rigging. Bhutto said the election commission had seriously compromised its independent position by submitting to dictation from the President.

Qazi said the commission had proved the worst fear that it was incapable of holding free and fair elections. Imran Khan said Gen Musharraf had used the commission in his desperate bid to get elected for another five years in a sham poll through present assemblies.

The All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) has vowed to resist Musharraf’s bid by tendering resignations from the assemblies in order to divest the election process of any credibility. But Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said resignations would not impact on the election schedule and Musharraf would be elected with a big majority.

Musharraf had offered to shed army uniform if that should be an obstacle in his candidature but the ruling party PML leadership insisted he must keep the army post till after the election. PML secretary-general Syed Mushahid Hussain reiterated on Monday that Musharraf would take off uniform after the election before taking the fresh oath of office by November 15.

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