World

Musharraf keeps controversial hold on Pakistan's presidency

Unofficial results show Gen. Pervez Musharraf as the runaway winner in Pakistan's presidential election, but the military leader's candidacy could still be declared unconstitutional.

Unofficial results show Pakistan's Gen. Pervez Musharraf swept Saturday's presidential election,but the Supreme Court could still disqualify the military leader from the vote boycotted by nearly all of Pakistan's opposition.

The election by politicians in the country's state and federal assembliesbecame a one-sided affair whenonlyhalf the eligible politiciansturned out to vote. Nearly all the opposition parties abstained or boycotted the voteto protest Musharraf's bid for a new five-year term while still army chief.

In total, Musharraf won 671 votes, compared with just eight for his main rival, retired judge Wajihuddin Ahmad. Six ballots were invalid, election officials said. Only a handful of the government's opponents were among the 685 of the 1,170 eligible politicians to vote.

The Supreme Court decided Friday that the official results can only be declared after it rules on complaints lodged by Musharraf's opponents that his candidacy is unconstitutional.

Ruling-party politicianswere claiming victory even before counting began. Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sher Afgan Khan Niazi said Musharraf had been "genuinely elected by members of parliament."

"Everything about the election was constitutional, legal, moral and legitimate," Niazi told the Associated Press. However, the opposition said the ballot was invalid.

Opposition firm on rejecting Musharraf's win

"We will not accept him as president. He flouted the constitution, and he is a person who has hardly any respect for the rule of law," said Sadique ul-Farooq, a leader of the party of exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Hearings on the petitions challenging Musharraf's candidacy will resume on Oct. 17, meaning if Musharraf wins he would have to wait at least 11 days before knowing whether he could take office.

His current presidential term expires Nov. 15.

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 said he wants to stay on to continue policies that have turned Pakistan's economy around, despite its position on the front line of the American-led war on terrorism.

"President Musharraf's success will strengthen democracy," Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told reporters, saying the unofficial results reflected unity among the ruling coalition.

Deal signed giving Bhutto amnesty

It appears likely Musharraf will form an alliance with exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto after parliamentary elections due by January. On Friday, he signed into law an amnesty quashing corruption charges against her and other politicians.

Bhutto's party abstained from Saturday's voting but did not resign from parliament as other opposition factions did over Musharraf's candidacy.

Chanting slogans against Musharraf, dozens of lawyers clashed with police outside the provincial assembly in the northwestern city of Peshawar. They burned an armoured police vehicle, threw rocks at officers, and burned an effigy of Musharraf before being scattered by police swinging batons.

Three lawyers and a policeman were injured in the clash, witnesses said.

The complete unofficial results were announced just 80 minutes after thefive hours of televised voting was done.

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