Pakistan's Election Commission says the presidential election will take place on October 6, despite legal challenges to President Pervez Musharraf's re-election bid. The decision prompted threats of resignation by opposition politicians, and even an expression of concern from the visiting head the British Commonwealth. Daniel Schearf reports from Islamabad.
Thursday's announcement by the Election Commission, whose head was appointed by Mr. Musharraf, ignores several petitions currently before the Supreme Court challenging his eligibility to seek re-election.
Opponents have argued that the president is forbidden by law to hold high military position. Mr. Musharraf, who is also head of the army, has been under increasing domestic and international pressure to give up his military post and move the country toward full democratic rule.
He has announced that he will retire from that post if he wins re-election to the presidency - but not before.
Qazi Hussain Ahmed is the leader of the MMA, one of the political groups challenging Mr. Musharraf's candidacy in court. He argues Mr. Musharraf has already served the two terms allowed a president- once when he declared himself president after leading a 1999 military coup, and later when his declaration was made legitimate through a referendum.
Ahmed says since Mr. Musharraf has already served two terms in office, the constitution says he cannot serve another. He says if Mr. Musharraf is allowed to run, opposition party legislators will resign, and will take to the streets in a nationwide protest.
Pakistan's constitution also bans all public servants, including military officers, from running for office until two years after they retire.
However, the Election Commission on Monday exempted the president from that constitutional requirement in advance. That sparked charges that the commission had overstepped its mandate, and usurped powers that belong to the courts.
Don McKinnon is the secretary-general of the British Commonwealth, the association of former British colonies. He told a press briefing in Islamabad Thursday that he welcomed Mr. Musharraf's plan to retire as chief of the military, but he warned that Pakistan faced a critical period in the next four months.
"We would only encourage at this time for all these processes to go as smoothly as possible, for people to recognize the rule of law, for people to recognize the right for all parties to contest the election, for people to recognize the supremacy and role of the Supreme Court, the independence of the court, and to recognize the fact that when elections are held, the whole world will be watching," McKinnon said.
Mr. Musharraf has promised free and fair elections. However, he appears to be taking steps to eliminate any opposition to his continued rule.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could return to Pakistan from exile. But shortly after Mr. Sharif's arrival, Mr. Musharraf had him deported.
Opponents argue that the presidential election should take place after parliamentary elections, to ensure that the president, who is selected by an electoral college made up of legislators, has more legitimacy.
If the election now goes through as planned on October 6, the president will be chosen by a parliament that may not exist in a few months' time.