Election officers have cleared former president and Army chief Pervez Musharraf to run for the National Assembly from Chitral in the May 11 elections.
Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in October 1999 and remained president until his resignation in 2008, returned to Pakistan from almost four years of self-imposed exile on March 24 vowing to participate in the upcoming elections. He remains a controversial figure, and his All Pakistan Muslim League party is not thought to be a serious contender for power at the polls.
In the far northern town of Chitral, close to the Afghan border, officials approved Musharraf’s candidature on Sunday. “His papers are in order. He is not convicted so far, so we cannot disqualify him,” said returning-officer Jamal Khan.
But in the retired general’s home city of Karachi, officials turned down his nomination on charges of violating the Constitution and sacking judges, including Pakistan’s then and current Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, in November 2007. Returning-officer Ikram-ur-Rehman upheld objections made by his rivals that Musharraf had violated the country’s laws. “This is a biased decision,” said Afzal Agha, an official in Musharraf’s party, adding that an appeal would be filed. Musharraf’s nomination papers were also rejected in Kasur, Punjab, on Friday, and a decision on his bid to contest a seat in Islamabad is expected late Sunday.
There is no limit to the number of seats a candidate can contest in Pakistan and it is common practice for high-profile politicians to vie for more than one at the same time. But by having his candidature accepted in Chitral, Musharraf has only passed the first test. Lawyer Sajidullah Khan has vowed to challenge his eligibility to run from there. “Musharraf is not eligible and we will lodge an appeal before the election tribunal,” he said.
In office, Musharraf was a key U.S. ally in the war on terror, an alliance that became deeply controversial in Pakistan, and he escaped at least three assassination attempts by Al Qaeda. Since he left power in 2008, his powerbase has shriveled, and last month he suffered the indignity of having a shoe thrown at him in court by an angry lawyer, who said he did it, “for my mother.”
Musharraf is also facing a barrage of legal cases. He has been granted bail over the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the death of a Baloch rebel leader in 2006, and for sacking and arresting judges in 2007. One of those sacked judges, Chief Justice Chaudhry, will hear a petition Monday asking for Musharraf to be put on trial for treason—a crime punishable by death.