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Pakistan’s Ex-PM Can Run Again

August 29, 2002

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistan’s semiautonomous election commission ruled Thursday that deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif can run in the October parliamentary election _ despite a government ban on his return from exile.

Government officials immediately dismissed any possibility that Sharif would be allowed to come back from Saudi Arabia and run in the Oct. 10 legislative elections.

``There is no question that Nawaz Sharif won’t return because he left Pakistan with his family under an agreement, and he can’t participate in politics,″ Information Minister Nisar Memon said.

A statement by the government news agency said election authorities in Lahore ruled that Sharif’s papers were ``in order.″

The commission also approved an application by Sharif’s wife Kalsum Nawaz to run in one constituency but rejected her as a candidate in another. Pakistani politicians commonly run in several constituencies. Commission authorities also rejected the application for Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif, who also lives in Saudi Arabia.

The commission is screening applications of thousands of would-be candidates for the election, which President Gen. Pervez Musharraf agreed to hold to restore civilian rule.

Candidates being scrutinized also include former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was convicted of corruption in absentia and faces arrest if she returns to Pakistan from self-imposed exile in London and Dubai. Bhutto has filed to run in several constituencies, and election officials will begin reviewing her applications on Friday.

Both Sharif and Bhutto have announced that they would run in the elections despite the government’s assertions otherwise. Bhutto held a rally in London on Saturday to kick off her campaign.

Musharraf has said Bhutto, unlike Sharif, is free to return to Pakistani but that she would face arrest for a corruption conviction.

Sharif was overthrown by Musharraf in a bloodless military coup in October 1999, He was sentenced to life imprisonment on hijacking and terrorism charges.

In December 2000, however, he was released in exchange for a promise that neither he nor 25 family members, including his wife and brother Shahbaz, would return for 10 years. All were banned from participating in Pakistani politics under the deal reportedly brokered by the Saudi royal family.

``The government will not challenge the decision of election commission in court because the commission is independent,″ Information Minister Memon said. ``We will not interfere in their functioning, (but) the fact remains that the Sharif family left Pakistan under an agreement. ... They themselves know that they can’t come back. ... They know that they can’t contest the elections.″

Government officials in the past have said that if Sharif returns, they will send him back to Saudi Arabia on the first available plane.

But Sadique al-Farooq, a spokesman for Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party, said the party hoped that Musharraf would permit Sharif’s return.

Lawyer and political analyst Akram Sheikh said there is nothing to prevent Sharif from running in the elections now because the deal he made with the government carries no legal weight.

If authorities arrest him, ``he can also contest the elections from prison,″ Sheikh said.