Islamabad, Oct 5 (UNI) Eight years after seizing power in a bloodless coup, President Pervez Musharraf will seek a fresh mandate to rule Pakistan for another five years in the crucial presidential poll tomorrow amid heightened political and legal wranglings that have raised serious questions about the legitimacy of the entire exercise.
The election is being held at a time when the embattled military ruler is facing intense heat from politicians, lawyers and the 'jehadi' elements who have unleashed terror by carrying out suicide attacks across the Islamic nation.
The 64-year-old General, who was born in India before its partition, would be seeking re-election from the present provincial and national assemblies, terms of which are due to expire soon and without doffing his uniform, a move which has triggered an Opposition outcry.
However, Gen Musharraf has the numbers on his side and looks all set to win with a huge margin, which would make him the longest serving ruler in the country's history.
All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM), an umbrella outfit of opposition parties, led by PML-N of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose government was overthrown by Gen Musharraf in 2000, has alleged that it was unconstitutional for Gen Musharraf to hold dual offices and his re-election from the present assemblies takes away the right of fresh assemblies to choose their President.
Gen Musharraf received a shot in the arm when constitutional petitions challenging his re-election bid were dismissed by the country's Supreme Court by a majority verdict. He had submitted before the court that he would step down as Army chief, if he was re-elected as President.
The chances of Gen Musharraf becoming a civilian president received a further push when he nominated former intelligence chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani as the next army chief. Gen Kiyani is considered to be close confidante of the President.
Paving the way for the election, the Supreme Court today rejected pleas by detractors of the military ruler to postpone elections, however, it said the results of the polls could not be announced until a final verdict.
Hundreds of APDM legislators have already resigned from provincial as well as national assembly to undermine the legitimacy of the polls.
However, in a big relief to the ruling coalition former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, engaged in talks over a power-sharing deal with the government, pulled back from a threatened mass walkout from Parliament. The participation of Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the largest political party in the country, would ensure the much-needed legitimacy to the election, which would have carried a question mark if only ruling lawmakers had elected the new President.
Ms Bhutto, who has set October 18 as her date of return to the country, has been demanding that Gen Musharraf seek re-election as a civilian and provide general immunity to all politicians and bureaucrats against whom charges of corruption and misuse of power were pending.
The party nonetheless has nominated senior leader Makhdoom Fahim Amin as their candidate.
Mr Sharif, who tried to return to the country on September 10 was deported to Saudi Arabia despite an apex court order in his favour. He was earlier deported in 2000 a year after Gen Musharraf dislodged his government in a coup in 1999.
Though Presidents are only titular heads in Pakistan, Gen Musharraf amended election rules to ensure that his nomination should not be turned down as well as decided to promulgate an Ordinance to revoke charges against politicians and bureaucrats, part of his government's deal with the PPP.
Besides political parties, lawyers who have been in the forefront of a nationwide stir against the government, have nominated a retired judge to challenged Gen Musharraf in tomorrow's polls.
Thousands of lawyers took to the streets when President Musharraf sacked Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in March. However, he was reinstated by a court order in July in a body blow to Gen Musharraf.
President Musharraf, who has survived many assassination attempts by al-Qaeda as well as home grown radicals, is considered a major ally by the US in its war against terror. He is also credited by the West for restoring order into a virtually bankrupt economy.
He had gone back on his pledge to step down as Army chief in December 2004.
The 342-seat lower house National Assembly and the 100-member upper house Senate -- and members of assemblies in Pakistan's four provinces -- Punjab, Sindh, North West Frontier and Balochistan form the electoral college for presidential election.
According to the schedule polling will be held simultaneously in all of the assemblies, beginning at 1000 hrs.
Besides Gen Musharraf, Mr Amin Fahim and Justice Wajihuddin, two more candidates are in the fray. Chairman of the Senate Mohammadmian Soomro was nominated by the ruling coalition as a backup candidate for the President and Deputy Mayor of Nawabshah Faryal Talpur who will be the backup candidate for Mr Amin Fahim.
The vote is by secret ballot.