Gen. Pervez Musharraf has overcome the last hurdle to being sworn in for a second term as president of Pakistan.
As widely expected, Musharraf's handpicked Supreme Court dismissed the last of six petitions challenging his reelection in October. That ruling paves the way for the Election Commission to rubber-stamp Musharraf's election victory. Musharraf is then expected to give up his post as chief of army staff and be sworn in as a civilian president.
Attorney General Malik Mohammad Qayyum told ABC News that Musharraf will hang up his uniform by this weekend. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani will replace him as head of the army, when Musharraf begins another five-year presidential term.
Musharraf has held his army position since 1998, and some analysts question whether Musharraf will be able to effectively wield power without the mantle of the army chief title. Humayun Khan, a retired Pakistani diplomat, believes "the army will be hard-put to support him if he's no longer chief of staff."
Wednesday, Musharraf took the bold step of amending the constitution through executive order, in an attempt to prevent further legal challenges to his emergency rule. The ordinance essentially states that all orders and appointments made on or after the date he declared emergency rule — Nov. 3 — should be deemed constitutionally valid. One Pakistani newspaper commented that the order indicates that Musharraf is feeling "insecure."
Musharraf's actions have left the main opposition parties with few options. The government has announced that national and provincial elections will be held on Jan. 8. Opposition leaders are divided about whether to boycott the polls, a symbolic gesture that might not have much practical value. Shortly after his release from detention, pro-cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan said he supports boycotting the elections, but it's unclear how many other opposition leaders will join his cause.
ABC News has learned from party sources that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will make another attempt to come back to Pakistan next week. Sharif, who was deposed by Musharraf eight years ago, was arrested and deported immediately after landing in Pakistan on Sept.10. He is also threatening to boycott the election, which would throw weight behind the coalition of opposition parties.
"If all the main opposition parties decide to boycott the election, the credibility and value of the elections is lost," said Khan. "I don't think anyone, anywhere in the world will believe that this is a democratically elected government."
The opposition is demanding not only that Musharraf shed his uniform, but that he lift emergency rule, reinstate the pre-emergency Supreme Court and appoint a new caretaker government that is acceptable to the opposition parties. The latter two options seem highly unlikely, observers say.
There does appear to be a loosening of the emergency order. Authorities say they have released 5,000 lawyers, journalists and activists in the last few days, including some of Musharraf's political opponents.
Under international pressure, Musharraf appears to be relaxing some of his strong-arm tactics, however he has already lost credibility with many Pakistanis. He continues to enjoy the support of the Bush administration, a fact not lost on Pakistan's literate elite. The morning after President Bush told ABC News' Charles Gibson that Musharraf "hadn't crossed the line," the story of Bush's support was splashed on the front page of every major Pakistani newspaper.