Islamabad: Differences seem to have emerged in the Pakistani government over a constitutional amendment to drastically curtail the powers of the President, with a key minister staying away when the bill was tabled in parliament Friday.
Law Minister Babar Awan did not attend the National Assembly session apparently because he was indisposed. However, the appointment of Raza Rabbani as advisor to the prime minister is said to be the real reason behind the absence, Online news agency reported.
Rabbani, who is a member of the Senate or upper house, had headed the constitutional reforms committee that recommended that the 18th amendment be introduced to slash the president`s sweeping powers and all but reduce him to a titular head of state.
"Awan wanted to present the ... bill but he could not seize the opportunity after the induction of Raza Rabbani as advisor to the prime minister and expressed his resentment by not attending the session," Online said.
Under the amendment, the president will be bound to act on the advice of the prime minister, who will get back, among others, the power to appoint the armed forces chiefs and the chief election commissioner.
These powers had been taken away by then president Pervez Musharraf by the 17th amendment that he rammed through parliament in 2002.
"I appreciate the (efforts of the constitution reforms) committee and the political parties to redress the acts of a dictator who had trampled the constitution," Associated Press of Pakistan quoted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as saying ahead of the bill being tabled.
"I also congratulate Raza Rabbani and his colleagues who burnt the midnight oil to mend the mistakes of the past in a legal and constitutional effort," Gilani added.
President Asif Ali Zardari has accepted the recommendations of the reforms committee, which include stripping former military dictator Gen. Zia-ul Haq of his title of president of Pakistan and removing the current bar on a prime minister serving a third term.
According to Gilani, the recommendations of the committee will empower the provinces, leading to good governance and political ownership.
Under the 18th amendment, the president will not be able to dissolve the assemblies in future and can do so only on the advice of the prime minister.
Then, the prime minister and the provincial chief ministers will be elected by their respective legislatures by a show of hands against the current provision of secret balloting.
Also, a caretaker chief minister will be selected by the provincial governor in consultation with the chief minister and the leader of opposition in the outgoing assembly.
Under the amendment, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) would be renamed Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa.