ISLAMABAD, (Reuters) – Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf swept the most votes in a presidential election on Saturday but he has to wait for the Supreme Court to confirm the legality of his bid before he can be declared winner.
Doubts over whether the election result will stand have fuelled uncertainty as the nuclear-armed Muslim country enters a transition from military to civilian rule that will culminate in national polls due by mid-January.
Members of the two-chamber parliament and four provincial assemblies voted for president in an election largely boycotted by the opposition.
In the two houses of parliament, Musharraf won 252 of 257 votes cast. His closest rival, Wajihuddin Ahmed, won two votes, while three votes were rejected, Chief Election Commissioner Qazi Muhammad Farooq told the National Assembly.
Musharraf had also won most votes cast in three of the four provincial assemblies, officials said. Counting was still going on in the fourth. “This result shows the people want continuity of policy,” Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told reporters in parliament. “It’s a very good omen that the election was fair and transparent.” If his re-election is confirmed, 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.
Coinciding with the vote, lawyers behind a campaign against Musharraf in recent months led anti-government protests 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. Protesters also threw a burning effigy of the president on top of an armoured police vehicle.
The Supreme Court ruled on Friday the vote could go ahead, but no winner could be declared until it had decided whether Musharraf was eligible to run for office while still army chief.
The ruling coalition’s majority ensured that Musharraf 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. 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.
The candidate that obtains the most votes in the 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 was Wajihuddin Ahmed, who was nominated by anti-government lawyers.