Amidst speculation about General Pervez Musharraf retaining his military uniform and seeking re-election to the presidency, Pakistan's Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Qazi Muhammad Farooq has said that Musharraf cannot run an election campaign for any political party.
"He (Musharraf) cannot become part of any party's election campaign," the CEC said while responding to a host of questions at a press conference.
Farooq, however, explained that Musharraf could meet senators and members of the National Assembly for consultation and guidance.
"Musharraf is a part of parliament, so he cannot be secluded," Farooq was quoted by the newspaper The News.
Farooq mooted the idea of a caretaker government headed by a caretaker prime minister in time for the elections.
A similar provision exists in some countries, including Bangladesh.
He said a caretaker prime minister or chief minister cannot take part in the elections.
He said at the time of elections there would be a caretaker government at the centre as well as in the provinces and the caretaker government members would not be eligible to contest elections.
"So there is no possibility of any involvement by the state machinery," he explained.
Speculation persist - and they are fed by statements made by Musharraf himself, besides leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid), the party that he has co-opted in his political plans - as Pakistan prepares for elections likely to take place next year.
Musharraf has said that he would decide on when to give up the job of Chief of Army Staff - which he has retained for the last eight years "within the constitution" and "in the supreme national interest."
The opposition is far from amused at this. Taking the cue from PML (Q) leaders, it is plotting to counter Musharraf's likely political moves.
It wants to frustrate Musharraf's supposed plans to get re-elected for a second term in the presidency using the current parliament and provincial assemblies as the electoral college.
Sections of the opposition, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, have secured resignations of their legislators to weaken the electoral college.
Further moves are likely next month with a no-confidence motion being moved against the government of Musharraf-appointed Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
Meanwhile, Aitzaz Ahsan, noted lawyer and opposition parliamentarian, has said that Musharraf should have resigned as the army chief in November last year, when his term in that post expired, to be eligible for re-election to the presidency after a gap of two years required under the constitution.
This provision, however, has never been followed by any military strongman in Pakistan.
Ahsan has said that the current legislatures cannot re-elect Musharraf.
Replying to a question about the participation of the two former prime ministers in exile, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, in the forthcoming elections, the CEC said the returning officers and eventually the Supreme Court would take up the matter whenever individuals or political parties raise the issue.
The total number of voters in the next elections would be 70.2 million and it would be a Herculean task for the Election Commission to prepare electronic database in the Urdu and Sindhi languages by May next year.
Farooq said the poll schedule would be announced after the current assemblies complete their tenure.
He said that 144 registration officers, 2,237 assistant registration officers, 28,992 supervisors and 86,740 enumerators have been appointed for the purpose of enumeration. Besides, 500 judges of the subordinate courts would review electoral lists.