General Pervez Musharraf won a landslide victory in Saturday’s presidential elections, but will remain on tenterhooks till the Pakistani Supreme Court rules on October 17 whether or not he is eligible for the country’s top job.
In a triumph that came as no surprise, General Musharraf bagged 671 of the 685 votes cast in Parliament and the four provincial assemblies, with just eight ballots going to his nearest rival Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed (retd), in unofficial results announced on Saturday evening.
Amidst tight security measures and a smattering of protests, the elections went off without major incident. While there’s no doubt about the victory margin, the official notification of the results has been withheld till October 17 by the Supreme Court.
About 160 elected representatives from all over the country resigned from the provincial and national assemblies last week in protest against General Musharraf running for president while retaining his job as army chief.
In a sign that a political deal with Musharraf was on, Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) MPs abstained from voting despite the fact that the PPP had fielded Makhdoom Amin Fahim as a candidate on paper.
A PPP spokesman said that their MPs had been told by the party high command to abstain from voting after an understanding was reached on Thursday with President Musharraf’s government. “We will not allow our party members to vote for a military dictator,” said a party member.
The government itself was taking no chances. A former minister, Shahid Jamil, under arrest on murder charges, was brought under guard to cast his vote. Some other members were also escorted to the parliament chambers.
Polling was held in the national assembly (parliament) building where 257 members of the national assembly, including 74 senators, cast their votes in relatively peaceful conditions. Essentially, members of the ruling Muslim League and its coalition partners voted to ensure a massive win for Musharraf.
Some minor incidents of violence and protests were witnessed in different parts of the county. Lawyers burnt cars and pelted stones outside the provincial assembly of the North West Frontier Province.
The scene now shifts to the Supreme Court again, which will hear on October 17 petitions that challenge the acceptance of the nomination papers of General Musharraf by the Election Commission.
Constitutional expert Feisal Naqvi says that it is not as simple as the court ruling in favour or against President Musharraf. “If the court finds against General Musharraf, it will not be as simple as having the election results being cancelled. There is much more to it,” he felt.
Musharraf, who recently appointed General Ashraf Kiyani as army chief-designate, has promised to remove his military uniform by November 15 even as PPP chief Benazir Bhutto is scheduled to return home from exile on October 18.