Pakistan's Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Saturday's presidential elections can go ahead as scheduled, but the notification of results by the Election Commission should be withheld till October 17, when the Court is expected to rule on President Pervez Musharraf's eligibility to run in the polls.
Senator Wasim Sajjad, a counsel in the case, clarified that this would not stop the announcement of the winner of the election, "only the official notification would be done on the given date".
"It is a good decision in which both sides are agreeable," Senator Latif Khosa, who is also a lawyer, commented. He said that while the electoral process would not be disturbed, at the same time the Court would be able to examine the merits of the petition in more detail and then give a ruling.
Polling will be conducted in the national assembly (parliament) in Islamabad and in the provincial assemblies in state capitals. General Musharraf enjoys enough support through the ruling coalition to win comfortably. The way has been cleared for President Musharraf to be re-elected especially after the finalization of an electoral deal with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party. Musharraf, 64, is being challenged in the election by a former chief justice, Justice (retired) Wajihuddin Ahmed, 68, and the chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, 68, who was fielded by the party "in case the deal with General Musharraf was not finalized".
However, both sides have agreed that a deal has been finalised. Under this, the government has promulgated a National Reconciliation Ordinance shortly. The NRO was finalised midnight on Thursday with the concurrence of Bhutto after a marathon meeting chaired by General Pervez Musharraf, which was earlier approved by the Cabinet on Friday.
Federal minister Shaikh Rasheed Ahmed said that the understanding with Ms Bhutto was a "done deal", and that the NRO, which gives across the board indemnity to politicians, would soon be issued by the President. Drafts of the NRO were exchanged several times between the government and London-based Ms Bhutto, the major beneficiary of this new law. Indemnity has been offered across the board and it will be for all office-holders of political parties and bureaucrats, who were charged under different alleged corruption laws and corrupt practices in the past.
Under the terms of the understanding with the PPP, the government will ensure free and fair elections in a couple of months, and ask the PPP to form a government if it gets the required number of seats in parliament. The agreement also says that the government "would consider favourably" the demand by the PPP that the bar on candidates being elected PM for a third time would be removed. This should pave the way for Ms Bhutto to return as prime minister.
The same law will also provide indemnity to the two-time exiled Sharif brothers and several bureaucrats currently abroad. The period of 1988 to October 1999 will be covered in this law, which will be promulgated after approval of the draft in a special cabinet meeting. The cabinet-passed NRO will be sent to President General Musharraf for his approval before its formal announcement.
Earlier, Ms Bhutto said in a press conference in London that if the NRO is signed then the PPP would not tender resignations, since then there would also be no hurdle in her return to Pakistan. However, two important demands of the PPP -- that the bar on third time PMs be removed and that Article 58-2-B, which empowers a president to dismiss an elected PM be removed has still not been done.