Pak lawmakers approves reforms to strip Prez's sweeping powers

Pak lawmakers approves reforms to strip Prez's sweeping powers

Pak lawmakers approves reforms to strip Prez's sweeping powers

Amid the shouting of slogans against former dictators Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf, the members of the lower house of parliament approved 102 amendments, including several that will transfer powers from the office of the President to the Prime Minister.

A total of 292 lawmakers of the 342-member National Assembly voted in favour of the bill, ensuring that it was cleared by a two-thirds majority. A total of 228 votes were required for the passage of the amendments.

No member opposed the bill but several abstained from the voting. "The impossible has been made possible by the house today," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the House after it voted in favour of the 18th amendment.

"We will now be answerable to both the national assembly and the senate," he said. The 18th constitutional amendment bill declared as illegal all measures taken by former President Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999 after dismissing the elected government of then premier Nawaz Sharif.

When an amendment to delete an article related to the emergency imposed by Musharraf in 2007 was passed, several lawmakers were heard shouting slogans calling for him to be hanged. The bill also removed the name of Zia-ul-Haq from the constitution, a measure that was welcomed by lawmakers with the thumping of desks.

Amendments that repealed the 17th constitutional amendment and Article 58 (2b) take away the President's power to dissolve the parliament, dismiss an elected government and appoint the three service chiefs.

Another amendment renamed the North West Frontier Province as Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, fulfilling a long-standing demand of Pashtun nationalists. Lawmakers from former premier Sharif’s PML-N party and PML-Q did not support the clause for renaming the NWFP.

The bar on a person serving as Prime Minister for a third term was also lifted by an amendment. Ninety-six of the 102 amendments were passed by consensus while lawmakers expressed differences on six changes.

The bill will now be sent to the Senate or upper house of parliament. After it is passed there by a two-thirds majority, it will be sent to the President to be signed and made part of the constitution.

A parliamentary committee with representation from all major political parties had finalised the constitutional reforms package.There has been little opposition to the bill.Under the Pakistani constitution, constitutional amendments must be passed with a two-thirds majority both in the Senate and National Assembly.

"I congratulate the nation over the passage of the amendments with a majority vote," Gilani told the Assembly. He said the government had developed consensus on the bill.
Gilani said the government wanted a package of constitutional reforms designed to restore the constitution of 1973, framed under the guidance of late President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, to its original form.

"We have been saying we will go to the Westminster-style parliamentary system... Today we removed the anomalies. We are giving you a parliamentary form of government," he underlined.

Earlier this week, President Zardari had said the constitutional reforms package will ensure that "no dictator can trample the constitution" again. Addressing a gathering at Garhi Khuda Baksh in Sindh province, he said the reforms will also ensure the rights of the people and the provinces of Pakistan as envisioned by late premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

The key amendments come at a time when the Supreme Court is pushing the government to reopen graft cases against Zardari in Switzerland after it struck down the controversial amnesty scheme National Reconciliation Ordinance promulgated by Musharraf in 2007.

Although Zardari is immune from prosecution while in office, the top court this week directed the government to send a fresh letter to Swiss officials for reopening the graft cases against Zardari after a Swiss prosecutor said the cases could not be reopened as the President enjoys "absolute immunity" as a head of state.