Pak curtails Zardari’s powers; terminates 17th Amendment

Last Updated: Thursday, April 8, 2010 - 20:58

Islamabad: Pakistan’s National Assembly
on Thursday passed by two-thirds majority a package of landmark
amendments aimed at stripping President Asif Ali Zardari of
his sweeping powers and removing changes made to the
constitution by former military dictators.

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Amendments that repealed the 17th constitutional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.

PTI



First Published: Thursday, April 8, 2010 - 20:58

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