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SC: Musharraf can contest in uniform
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

A nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on Friday by 6-3 majority dismissed on technical grounds various petitions challenging the eligibility of President Gen Pervez Musharraf to contest election for another term.

The verdict cleared the decks in General Musharraf's bid to seek another term but kept open the window for further court battles on merits of the case that rely on the argument that an army chief cannot contest election.

The majority of six out of nine judges ruled that the petitions are not maintainable under Article 184(3) of the Constitution which relates to violation of any fundamental right of the petitioner. The judges include Javed Iqbal, Abdul Hameed Dogar, Muhammad Nawaz Abbasi, Faqir Muhammad Khokhar, Falak Sher, and Javed Buttar.

The Presiding judge of the Bench, Justice Rana Bhagwan Das, along with Sardar Muhammad Raza Khan and Mian Shakirullah Jan rejected the argument of non-maintainability while holding the petitions in order for being of public importance and affecting the fundamental rights of the petitioners and the people.

The jam-packed house burst with slogans of 'shame, shame' when Justice Rana read out the brief judgment while the reasons would be spelled out later. The judges immediately left the room. Enthusiastic young lawyers came out of the court vowing not to accept the verdict.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz described the ruling as historic. He said the Supreme Court ruling had removed all impediments in the election of President General Musharraf. Under his leadership, the nation will march on path of democracy, stability and economic progress.

Aziz said all concerned must respect the court judgment and warned that nobody would be allowed to disturb law and order in protest against the verdict.

State minister for information Tariq Azeem said President Musharraf would be elected with a comfortable margin and immediately doff his uniform as had been pledged in the court.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said it accepted the verdict. Senior party leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who is also a candidate, said he would remain in the field and face Musharraf in the election.

Benazir Bhutto said her party would file a constitutional petition to challenge General Musharraf’s eligibility to contest election as army chief. She said the party would also establish contacts with other parties to coordinate a strategy that included option for resignations. However, it would not resort to resignations if Musharraf took steps to restore democracy and go for national reconciliation.

Another candidate, retired Justice Wajihuddin, said the judges had succumbed to General Musharraf’s pressure. He said reports had appeared in the media quoting members of families of judges how they were being harassed.

Wajihuddin said he would challenge Musharraf’s eligibility on merit during scrutiny of papers by the Chief Election Commissioner on Saturday. If his objection is rejected, another round of litigation in superior courts would begin.

Jamaat-I-Islami, which was among the petitioners, criticised the judgment but said it would file a review petition on Monday before the full court.

Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, eminent lawyer who also appeared as amicus curiae in the case, said the ruling has pushed the country back to 1954 when Justice Munir of the federal court dismissed Speaker Maulvi Tameezuddin ‘s petition on technical grounds ushering in a long era of collusion between the judiciary and the military.

Aitzaz, who was in the forefront during lawyers’ movement after removal of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, said the legal fraternity would not let this set back affect their struggle for supremacy of the Constitution, rule of law and independence of judiciary. He said the court had avoided to confront the case on merits of the case and indirectly endorsed Musharraf’s bid to contest election as army chief.

Observers here said the election schedule was so brief that it left little time for resorting to litigation in courts. Musharraf would go forward to get elected on October 6.

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