Musharraf is set to win Pak presidency
Vote begins, but victory hangs on court
ISLAMABAD, Saturday (Reuters) - Pakistani parliamentarians were voting today in a presidential election military ruler Pervez Musharraf was sure to win even though he's uncertain whether the Supreme Court will let him claim victory.
Doubts whether the election result would stand fuelled uncertainty in nuclear-armed Pakistan, as the 160-million strong Muslim nation enters transition from military to civilian rule that will culminate in national polls due by mid-January.
|A female supporter of Pakistan's military ruler President Pervez Musharraf kisses a picture of Musharraf in front of the Parliament building during the presidential election in Islamabad yesterday. Pakistani parliamentarians were voting yesterday in a presidential election military ruler Pervez Musharraf was sure to win even though he's uncertain whether the Supreme Court will let him claim victory. Reuters
The court ruled on Friday that the vote in the two-chamber parliament and four provincial assemblies could go ahead, but no winner would be declared until it has decided whether Musharraf was eligible to run for office while still army chief.
If re-elected U.S. ally Musharraf has promised to quit the army and be sworn in as a civilian leader just over eight years after coming to power in a coup.
The secret ballot began shortly after 10 a.m. (0500 GMT) and is due to finish by 3 p.m. (1000 GMT), with the tally from the 702-vote electoral college completed later in the day.
There were anti-government protests led by lawyers, who have spearheaded a campaign against Musharraf in recent months in the four provincial capitals -- Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta.
Police fired tear gas to disperse lawyers pelting rocks at the North West Frontier Province assembly, and the lawyers also threw a burning effigy of the president on top of an armoured police vehicle.
The ruling coalition's majority ensures that Musharraf will beat two rival candidates in a contest the opposition barely participated in, but his fate will be undecided until at least Oct. 17, when the court is due to reconvene.“We will win. there's no problem because we have the numbers, we have a majority,” Information Minister Mohammd Ali Durrani said.
“We will then face the court. We have honoured decisions of the court and we will continue to do so.”
Nevetherless, there is speculation about how General Musharraf might react if the court thwarts his re-election.
So long as he is army chief he could declare emergency rule or martial law -- options Musharraf has said he won't take.
The outcome is of vital interest to the West, which needs Pakistan's support for its efforts to stabilise Afghanistan and tackle the threat from al Qaeda.
SHARIF OUT, BHUTTO IN
The candidate that obtains the most votes in Saturday's ballot wins and Musharraf's task was made easier by protest resignations of more than 160 assembly members belonging to an opposition alliance led by Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf ousted in 1999 and later exiled.
On the eve of the election, Musharraf averted resignations by the biggest opposition party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led by Benazir Bhutto.
Musharraf and Bhutto have for months been talking about a power-sharing deal that would help the president broaden his base of support and clear the way for self-exiled Bhutto's return to politics, possibly as prime minister for a third time.
On Friday, Musharraf met one of her main demands.
He annulled corruption charges against her and other civilian leaders, paving the way for her return after more than eight years to lead her party into the general election.
Instead of trying to spoil the credibility of the presidential vote by quitting parliament, PPP lawmakers abstained.
They walked off the floor of the National Assembly before voting began, even though the party fielded Makhdoom Amin Faheem as its candidate. The other main candidate is Wajihuddin Ahmed, who was nominated by anti-government lawyers.