Pakistan's Supreme Court yesterday threw out a final challenge to President Pervez Musharraf's reelection and paved the way for him to quit as army chief.
The long-awaited ruling comes as Musharraf faces the prospect of Pakistan's second suspension from the Commonwealth since he took power in a bloodless 1999 coup, because he continues to resist calls to fully lift emergency rule imposed on November 3.
"Dismissed," Chief Justice Abdul Hamid Dogar said after hearing the petition, the sixth and final challenge to Musharraf's October 6 reelection to be thrown out by the court.
Attorney-General Malik Qayyum said before the ruling he expected Musharraf to be sworn in for a second term "by the weekend or immediately thereafter".
Musharraf's top legal adviser, Sharifuddin Pirzada, said there was now no legal obstacle to his reelection. "Now the court has to give us this in writing," he said.
Musharraf repeatedly promised to relinquish his army post and be sworn in as a civilian leader for a second five-year term in what he calls a transition to civilian-led democracy once his reelection had been endorsed by the court.
While critical of his actions, the United States has given leeway to General Musharraf, a crucial ally in the fight against Al-Qaida and the Taliban, to put things right before a general election on January 8 that the opposition may boycott.
Investors in the Karachi stock market, already taking heart from US President George W. Bush's endorsement of Musharraf, welcomed the favorable court ruling. Shares gained 0.25 percent yesterday on top of 1.5 percent on Wednesday.
Musharraf declared emergency rule nearly three weeks ago, suspended the constitution, sacked the chief justice and reshuffled the court, installing more amenable judges.
"He has assured me he will do his utmost to lift the state of emergency in time for free and fair elections to be held and to give up his military role and responsibilities as soon as possible," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said before heading to a Commonwealth summit in Kampala.
The government has appealed to the Commonwealth of 53 nations not to follow through on a threat to suspend Pakistan for failing to meet a deadline yesterday to end emergency rule.
Musharraf has started to roll back the emergency, freeing around 5,000 lawyers, opposition and rights activists detained in a round-up of opponents.
Source: China Daily/Agencies