Sharif barred as Pakistani candidate

Convictions make past prime minister ineligible

December 04, 2007|By New York Times News Service

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been barred from running in January's parliamentary elections because of a previous conviction, Pakistan's election commission announced yesterday.

A spokesman for Sharif, Ahsan Iqbal, said that the barring of Sharif was part of a plan by President Pervez Musharraf and his supporters to rig the elections, and that Sharif's lawyers would contest the decision.

Sharif, a leading opposition figure who was overthrown in a military coup in 1999, was allowed to return from exile last week, and filed nomination papers to represent a district of his home city of Lahore in the parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 8. But other candidates in the district challenged his nomination on the grounds that he was convicted in 2000 of hijacking a plane carrying Musharraf, who was then head of the army, an act that precipitated the bloodless coup.

"His nomination papers are rejected because of his convictions," said the presiding election official in Lahore, Raja Qamaruzaman, the Reuters news agency reported.

Sharif arrived in Islamabad yesterday to meet with another former prime minister and opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, to discuss a joint stance on the elections.

Sharif had called for a boycott of the elections in protest of the state of emergency imposed by Musharraf on Nov. 3, when the president suspended the constitution and dismissed the Supreme Court.

Yet a boycott without Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party would be largely ineffective. Bhutto has said that a boycott would just hand a victory to Musharraf and his supporters.

The emergency is still in place, but Musharraf announced last week that he would lift it Dec. 16.

Sharif was ousted from power in 1999 when he ordered that Musharraf, who was returning from a trip to Sri Lanka, be dismissed and refused permission for his plane to land.

However, the army took control of the airports and allowed the plane to land. Sharif was arrested, imprisoned and convicted on corruption and hijacking charges and sentenced to life imprisonment.

A year later he was allowed to go into exile in Saudi Arabia but his sentences were never quashed.

Musharraf, who resigned from his military post as chief of the army and became a civilian president last week, allowed Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif to return in time to contest the parliamentary elections. But both men have now been disqualified because of the outstanding court cases against them.

Both can appeal the election commission's decision.

"This proves our point that without an independent judiciary there cannot be free and fair elections," Iqbal said.

Earlier yesterday in Lahore, Sharif met with U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson, who urged all opposition parties to take part in the elections. She reiterated U.S. calls for lifting curbs on the media and freeing all detainees.

But she refrained from calling for the reinstatement of the Supreme Court justices, a key opposition demand that Musharraf has repeatedly rejected. The judges had been apparently set to rule him ineligible for another term as president.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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