Pakistani court due to rule on Musharraf vote bid

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ISLAMABAD, Sept 26 (Reuters) Lawyers summed up arguments today as Pakistan's Supreme Court prepared to issue a landmark ruling on challenges to General Pervez Musharraf's bid for another term in an October 6 presidential election.

Army chief Musharraf and at least two other candidates are due to file election nomination papers tomorrow.

The Supreme Court is expected to reach a decision the same day or Friday on petitions by political parties seeking to block Musharraf's bid for power.

Months of uncertainty lie ahead as US ally Musharraf struggles to keep control in nuclear-armed Pakistan, a country whose support is seen as crucial to the success of Western efforts to stabilise Afghanistan and battle al Qaeda.

The National Assembly, Senate and provincial assemblies are scheduled to hold the presidential vote before they are dissolved for a national election due by mid-January.

A Supreme Court seen as hostile to Musharraf since he tried to sack its top judge in March began hearing challenges to his re-election on September 17.

The court is hearing petitions challenging Musharraf's right to retain the posts of president and army chief, the legality of being elected in uniform, and whether he can get a mandate from outgoing assemblies.

A prominent opposition lawyer said Musharraf could not seek re-election while still army chief and the Election Commission should reject his nomination.

Musharraf, whose main source of power is the military, has said he would quit the army after winning another term. If not re-elected, Musharraf would remain army chief until a new president nominated a commander, the attorney-general said.

He has held both posts thanks to a constitutional clause incorporated in 2004 but his presidential term ends on November 15 and he is due to quit from his army post by the end of the year.

Aitzaz Ahsan, a former minister in a civilian government in the late 1980s and the country's most prominent anti-government lawyer, said Musharraf was ineligible for re-election.

''Being an army chief, he can't even submit his nomination papers,'' Ahsan told the court.

A lawyer from Musharraf's ruling party said he, too, thought Musharraf should run for re-election after quitting his army post.

Musharraf's lawyers are due to sum up on Thursday.

SHARES HIGHER ON MUSHARRAF HOPES If the court blocks Musharraf's re-election, analysts say he might impose emergency rule, or dissolve parliament and seek a mandate from the assemblies emerging from the national election.

Pakistani shares ended 0.55 percent up at a seven-week high on hopes the Supreme Court would decide in favour of Musharraf, who has overseen strong growth and a surging stock market, dealers said.

While the Supreme Court could complicate Musharraf's bid for re-election, his fate is also bound to the outcome of negotiations with two opposition parties, analysts said.

The Pakistan People's Party of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and an Islamist party led by the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Fazlur Rehman, are both possible coalition partners after the general election.

REUTERS JK KN1622

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