M A I N   N E W S

Zardari signs bill clipping his wings
Afzal Khan & Agencies

Road ahead

  • President loses power to sack PM
  • He can no longer dissolve Parliament
  • Ban on election of a PM for more than two terms abolished
  • Obstacle for Nawaz Sharif to become PM again removed

Islamabad, April 19
“It is my hope that the doors of dictatorship are closed forever,” said Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday after signing the historic 18th Amendment to the country’s 1973 Parliamentary Constitution.

“We have reason to feel proud... provincial rights and parliament's sovereignty have been restored,” he told dignitaries gathered at his office. But later during a brief chat with newsmen, when he was asked to elaborate on his claim that the path of dictators has been closed for ever, he enigmatically said, "There could be accidents like we saw in case of the Polish president and eruption of a volcano in Europe," before striding away.

Earlier, he signed into law sweeping constitutional reforms relinquishing key powers designed to bolster parliamentary democracy weakened by military rule. The 18th Amendment had earlier been cleared by Pakistan’s parliament and sent to him for his signature.

Zardari signed the amendment removing the head of state's power to sack the prime minister and dissolve parliament at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif.

The amendment removes many of the sweeping powers amassed by military dictators Pervez Musharraf and Zia-ul-Haq. The bill also abolishes a clause barring the election of a prime minister for more than two terms. This would allow the Nawaz Sharif, who was toppled by Musharraf in 1999, to become prime minister again.

The amendment will effectively make Zardari a titular head of state who can only formally appoint heads of the armed forces, dissolve the national assembly and appoint provincial governors on the advice of the prime minister. The law also takes away the President’s power to appoint and dismiss the heads of the Election Commission and the Public Service Commission. Also, he will no longer be able to dismiss any or all the provincial governments on personal whims.

The amendment strengthens the role of the elected Parliament and the Prime Minister. State television broadcast live footage of Zardari signing the historic 18th Amendment to the constitution, which effectively reverses efforts by successive military rulers to weaken Pakistan's 1973 parliamentary constitution.

“This is an historic day,” Law Minister Babar Awan told dignitaries gathered at the presidential offices. “For the first time in the history of this country, a democratically elected president has voluntarily given up his power back to the parliament of this country,” he said.

Prime Minister Gilani also hailed the signing of the bill a “momentous occasion”. “It is an unprecedented event in the political history of Pakistan that a leader has willingly transferred power in such a smooth process.... Pakistan would definitely emerge stronger after the enactment of this bill,” he said.

Senator Raza Rabbani who steered the bill during the past nine months, called the bill a unique piece of legislation. For the first time a democratically elected incumbent president of Pakistan has relinquished his powers voluntarily, entire national leadership has supported it and the questions of provincial autonomy have been resolved " to a large extent", he claimed.





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