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Musharraf Gets Court's OK for October Election

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Pakistan, opposition efforts to block President Pervez Musharraf's reelection ran into trouble today. The country's supreme court rejected legal challenges against his candidacy. He's unpopular and he's faced with security problems, but Musharraf now appears set to serve another five years in office.

NPR's Philip Reeves has the story from Islamabad.

PHILIP REEVES: They waited outside all morning and most of the afternoon. No one even took a sip of water, despite the late summer heat. It's Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. The small crowd kept its spirits up with a favorite chant.

(Soundbite of people chanting)

REEVES: But when the verdict came, the mood changed.

(Soundbite of protest)

REEVES: Many outside Pakistan's supreme court today were also among those who took to the streets when Musharraf tried to sack the chief justice in March. When the court reinstated the judge in July, defying Pakistan's ruling generals in full view of the world, some thought Pakistan had changed forever.

They included Roedad Khan, a former top Pakistani government bureaucrat. He was profoundly disappointed with today's ruling.

Mr. ROEDAD KHAN (Political Analyst): I thought the supreme court was a supreme court reborn. We thought the judges of the supreme court had learned their lesson, you know? But events have brewed around the world.

REEVES: Musharraf's opponents believe it's illegal for him to run for president at the same time as being army chief. In fact, they say the law bans him running for political office for two years after giving up the army job. That's why they petitioned the supreme court. The court didn't rule on the substance of these claims. It focused on whether the petitions met the legal requirements for the supreme court to consider them. Six out of the panel of nine judges decided they did not, to the alarm of lawyer Ahmed Awai(ph).

Mr. AHMED AWAI (Lawyer): We are grossly disappointed. Justice should not be sacrificed on the order of technicalities.

REEVES: Musharraf now seems clear to stand for reelection in just over one week. He's expected to win. He'll do so while remaining army chief, though he signaled he'll take off the uniform before the end of November, a move his aides portray as part of a transition to civilian rule and democracy. Defeated in court today, Musharraf's opponents say they'll now pressure Pakistan's election commission to reject his nomination. Most of them, including Roedad Khan, insist the campaign to oust Musharraf will continue.

Mr. KHAN: The legal battle - this is over now. But this battle will now be fought on the streets of Pakistan, you know? There is where it will be fought.

REEVES: Yet, the streets of Pakistan haven't really engaged in this affair. They were quiet, even after the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was deported within hours of returning to Pakistan this month. True, the security services rounded up many hundreds of Sharif's political supporters beforehand and, yet again, flooded the streets with police. But generally, the opposition parties are divided and disorganized.

(Soundbite of protest)

REEVES: Today, shortly after the verdict, there was some street action, the rare appearance of some of Musharraf's supporters celebrating the verdict before the cameras and led by Naya Mutaza(ph).

Ms. NAYA MUTAZA (President Musharraf's Supporter): It is not only success of President Musharraf, it is success of Pakistani. All are very happy to see.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.