Pak panel hands over Constitutional reforms package to Speaker

Raza Rabbani, the leader of the 26-member parliamentary committee on constitutional reforms, presented the package, popularly referred to as the "18th Constitution amendment", to Fehmida Mirza, Speaker of the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament.

Official sources said the package is expected to the tabled tomorrow in the National Assembly and Senate, the upper house of Parliament. This will be followed by an address to a joint sitting of both houses by President Asif Ali Zardari.

The parliamentary panel finalised the reforms package late last night after overcoming last minute hitches, including objections raised by the main opposition PML-N to the proposed renaming of North West Frontier Province and the procedure for appointing judges.

The package was finalised after over nine months of discussions among the main political parties of Pakistan.

Rabbani, speaking at a ceremony during which he handed over the committee's report to the Speaker, said political parties had reached a "historic national alliance and consensus" to create a "federal, democratic, parliamentary and Islamic Pakistan."

The draft reforms package contains wide-ranging amendments aimed at stripping the President of sweeping powers, including the authority to appoint the three service chiefs and dissolve Parliament.

One-fourth of the Constitution's articles are likely to be amended by the package.
The parliamentary committee has suggested over 100 amendments to 70 constitutional articles.

However, several political parties like the PML-Q included notes of dissent in the committee's report.

The proposed amendments will restore the Constitution of 1973, framed under the leadership of late premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and remove changes made by two former military rulers, late Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf.

Rabbani noted that the Constitution of 1973 was a "document that no dictator could overcome as it was framed through national consensus."

"All dictators could not abrogate it as it had political will and moral authority behind it and they always kept it in abeyance," he said.

Speaker Fehmida Mirza said: "The political leadership has proved that Parliament is supreme and parliamentarians can solve all problems faced by the nation through consensus and reconciliation."

She expressed confidence that both houses of Parliament would pass the reforms with consensus.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani too met and congratulated the members of the parliamentary committee and lauded their "hard work, political sagacity and commitment" in producing the draft reforms.

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