Significant step


Pakistan has taken a major step towards strengthening democracy with the National Assembly approving over 100 constitutional amendments which are aimed at restoring a parliamentary system of governance. Prime Minister Gilani has declared that parliament is now supreme after the amendments, proposed by a parliamentary committee, were voted clause by clause last Thursday. The vote restores the original constitution of 1973, which was violated and trampled upon by successive military dictators. The amendments shift a number of key powers from the president to parliament, enhance provincial autonomy and change the procedure for appointing judges, thus giving judiciary its rightful and independent place in the constitutional scheme. The president will not henceforth have the power to dissolve parliament and appoint services chiefs. All major political parties came together to support the amendments. This was in itself a major achievement in Pakistan’s fractious politics. Though President Zardari did not extend full co-operation to the reform efforts for obvious reasons, he could only fall in line, in the face of the combined will of all parties.

The passage of the amendments is only a first step. The major challenge is to make the constitution work. Military chiefs in Pakistan have not been bound by the constitution and the laws, and have subverted them whenever they wanted to seize power. The responsibility to protect the constitution rests with the people and the political parties. Dictators have always found it easy to manipulate political parties and thrive on their rivalries and hunger for power.  The resilience of a parliamentary democracy rests on commitment to the rule law, clear division of powers among different organs of the state and the strength of civil society and its organisations. The superstructure of a democratic civil society is still weak and undeveloped in Pakistan. It takes time to nurture institutions that can support and protect the system from shocks and assaults.

The provisions about an Islamic state inserted by former President Zia-ul-Huq in the constitution have not been touched. There is a strong view within Pakistan that another exercise is needed to abolish these clauses and bring in some more changes. This is bound to take time. However, whatever has been achieved is creditable and Pakistan can be proud of reclaiming democratic credentials, which had been considered lost.

Liked the story?

  • 0

    Happy
  • 0

    Amused
  • 0

    Sad
  • 0

    Frustrated
  • 0

    Angry