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New Pak laws to stifle Zardari tabled

Rezaul H Laskar/PTI  |  Islamabad 

I / Islamabad April 02, 2010, 14:22 IST

A landmark constitutional reforms package aimed at striking down the President's sweeping powers and strengthening democratic institutions was today tabled in Pakistan's Parliament, with the ruling PPP describing it as a "bill of hope."

The package, popularly referred to as the '18th constitutional amendment,' will be debated by the Senate and National Assembly after President Asif Ali Zardari addresses a joint session of both houses of Parliament on April 5.

Analysts believe the amendments will be passed without any hitches as the recommendations of the parliamentary panel were endorsed by all major political parties after the PPP and its allies settled differences with the opposition PML-N over contentious issues like renaming North West Frontier Province and the procedure for appointing judges.

Though the proposed reforms will strip the President of many powers, including the ability to dissolve Parliament and the authority to appoint the three service chiefs and other top officials, Zardari is expected to remain the most powerful man in Pakistan as he has a tight grip on the PPP and will retain the power to name the Prime Minister.

Senator Raza Rabbani, the senior PPP leader who led the parliamentary committee on constitutional reforms, tabled the panel's report with proposed amendments and described it as a "bill of hope" that will ensure the people's emancipation and parliamentary supremacy.

"This historic day is dedicated to the memory of (slain former premier) Benazir Bhutto," Rabbani said as lawmakers thumped desks.

Some parliamentarians went up to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and shook his hand and congratulated him.

Rabbani said the parliamentary committee's report contains recommendations passed unanimously by lawmakers, including proposals to repeal the Legal Framework Order (LFO) of 2002 and the 17th Amendment Act of 2003 ¿ both of which were pushed through by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf to strengthen his grip on power.

The LFO and the 17th amendment were "without lawful authority and should be repealed," Rabbani said.

The 17th amendment gave the President powers to appoint the service chiefs and other top functionaries.

The committee also recommended the repeal of Article 58(2b), which was inserted in the Constitution in 1985 during the reign of late military ruler Zia-ul-Haq and gave the President power to dissolve Parliament and dismiss Premier.

It recommended changes to Article 6 of the Constitution to allow anyone who suspends or keeps in abeyance the Constitution to be charged with "high treason."

First Published: Fri, April 02 2010. 14:22 IST