Pakistanis polarised by ruling in Musharraf's favour

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KARACHI, Sep 28 (Reuters) Some were angry, some were relieved: Pakistanis were polarisd today by a Supreme Court decision that allowed President Pervez Musharraf to run for re-election next week while still army chief.

General Musharraf, who came to power in a bloodless coup eight years ago, has promised to quit his army post once he is re-elected in a vote set for October 6, and be sworn in as a civilian president as part of a transition to fuller democracy.

''Musharraf should not stay in power even for a single day,'' snapped Gul Rose, a taxi driver in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, a region gripped by Islamist militancy.

Musharraf, whose main support base remains the army, has seen his popularity plummet this year, but he still commands loyalty from people fearful that without him the country will slide into chaos and economic gains made during his tenure will be lost.

''Pervez Musharraf is the need of the nation. The court has given the right decision, and it is for the benefit of Pakistan and its people,'' said Mumtaz Ahmad, 70, a retired government worker in the southern city of Karachi.

''Another term for Musharraf will help further improving the business environment in Pakistan,'' said Rehman Chaudhry, a businessman in the eastern city of Lahore.

But many Pakistanis, impatient to see the army withdraw from political life, were disappointed that the country's top court, in a split decision, dismissed opposition parties' legal challenges to Musharraf's plan to get a new mandate.

The court has been regarded as hostile to Musharraf since his unsuccessful attempt to oust the Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in March, but Friday's decision convinced some people that judges could still be swayed by the establishment.

''After the restoration of the chief justice, we thought the judiciary had become independent, but today's decision has shown it is not,'' said Faisal Raza, a banker in Lahore, capital of Punjab province.

Pakistan has been ruled by generals for more than half the 60 years since its formation following the partition of India in 1947, and Arshad Hussain Zaidi, a 25-year-old cable television operator in Karachi, compared Friday's decision to an infamous 1950s Supreme Court ruling vindicating the first military takeover.

''This decision is again according to 'the doctrine of necessity' and not according to the wishes of the people,'' Zaidi said.

An electoral college comprising members of the National Assembly, Senate and provincial assemblies will vote for a president before the assemblies are dissolved for a general election due by mid-January.

Musharraf's friends in the ruling coalition are expected to suffer heavy losses in the general election, forcing him to look for new allies like former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who plans to come back from self-exile on October 18.

REUTERS SS RAI1959

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