Zardari set to lose sweeping powers

Zardari set to lose sweeping powers

The package, popularly referred to as the '18th constitutional amendment,' will be debated by the Senate and National Assembly after President Asif Ali Zardari addresses a joint session of both houses of Parliament on April 5.

Analysts believe the amendments will be passed without any hitches as the recommendations of the parliamentary panel were endorsed by all major political parties after the PPP and its allies settled differences with the opposition PML-N over contentious issues like renaming North West Frontier Province and the procedure for appointing judges.

Though the proposed reforms will strip the President of many powers, including the ability to dissolve Parliament and the authority to appoint the three service chiefs and other top officials, Zardari is expected to remain the most powerful man in Pakistan as he has a tight grip on the PPP and will retain the power to name the Prime Minister.

Senator Raza Rabbani, the senior PPP leader who led the parliamentary committee on constitutional reforms, tabled the panel's report with proposed amendments and described it as a "bill of hope" that will ensure the people's emancipation and parliamentary supremacy.

"This historic day is dedicated to the memory of (slain former premier) Benazir Bhutto," Rabbani said as lawmakers thumped desks.
Some parliamentarians went up to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and shook his hand and congratulated him.

Rabbani said the parliamentary committee's report contains recommendations passed unanimously by lawmakers, including proposals to repeal the Legal Framework Order (LFO) of 2002 and the 17th Amendment Act of 2003 – both of which were pushed through by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf to strengthen his grip on power.
The LFO and the 17th amendment were "without lawful authority and should be repealed," Rabbani said.

The 17th amendment gave the President powers to appoint the service chiefs and other top functionaries.

The committee also recommended the repeal of Article 58(2b), which was inserted in the Constitution in 1985 during the reign of late military ruler Zia-ul-Haq and gave the President power to dissolve Parliament and dismiss Premier.

It recommended changes to Article 6 of the Constitution to allow anyone who suspends or keeps in abeyance the Constitution to be charged with "high treason."

The panel also called for amendments to make it mandatory for a proclamation of emergency to be endorsed through resolutions passed by provincial assemblies.
If the President acts on his own, the proclamation of emergency must be tabled in both houses of Parliament within 10 days.    

Among other proposals are a recommendation to rename NWFP as Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, an amendment to Article 10 to give people the right to fair trial, an amendment to Article 19 to ensure the right to access to free information, an amendment to Article 25 to ensure free and compulsory education for children aged between five and 14 and a change to Article 48 to ensure the President acts on the advice of the premier within a specified time.

An amendment to Article 59 to increase the strength of the Senate from 100 to 104 to include representatives from the minority communities from the four provinces has also been proposed.     

The reforms package also recommended the abolition of the concurrent list of subjects that can be administered by the centre and the provisions and a proposal to limit the size of the federal Cabinet to 11 per cent of the total membership of Parliament to ensure good governance.     

The package also recommended the removal of the limit set on the number of times a person can hold the post of Prime Minister or Chief Minister.

This amendment, if passed, would enable opposition PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif to become premier again. Under existing laws, two-time premier Sharif is barred from becoming Prime Minister again.    

 Addressing Parliament before the package was tabled, Prime Minister Gilani said its recommendations will strengthen existing and future institutions and thus ensure good governance and justice.

They will also prevent victimisation and ensure political ownership, he said.
Rabbani, however, warned: "Even if all these amendments are passed, but if the will to implement these amendments is not there, the federation will continue to be adrift. Today the federation is in peril and it seeks stability."      

The reforms, he said, will remove a "quasi-presidential" form of government put in place by dictators that had "strangled" democracy.

The changes will see the provinces assured of their political, economic and cultural rights and the people will feel they have a stake in the central government, Rabbani said.

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