Fri, Apr 02, 2010 - Page 4 News List

Pakistan president set to lose powers

LESS IS MORE A draft amendment transfers a variety of powers, including the ability to fire an elected government, from the office of the president to the prime minister


A parliamentary committee agreed on a constitutional amendment that strips the Pakistani president of powers inherited from the country’s former military ruler, fulfilling a long-standing opposition demand and reducing pressure on the US-allied leader.

The development could help calm Pakistan’s turbulent political environment at time when Washington wants the government focused on battling militants.

“This was a difficult job that has been done amicably and with consensus,” Pakistani Senator Raza Rabbani, the head of the parliamentary committee, told reporters on Wednesday.

The draft amendment transfers a variety of powers, including the ability to fire an elected government and appoint military chiefs, from the office of the president to the prime minister, said Senator Hasil Baloch, another member of the committee.

The opposition has criticized Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari for dragging his feet on relinquishing the powers, which he first promised to do when he was elected in 2008.

Analysts said the changes meant Zardari would occupy a largely ceremonial post, but since he derives much of his power from his position as co-head of the largest party, he will still wield significant influence over the government.

Furthermore, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is a loyal member of Zardari’s party and a strong supporter of the president.

“By and large, Gilani will hold the power, and he holds his position because he is the chosen one of Zardari,” said Cyril Almeida, an opinion writer for Dawn newspaper. “It is hard to imagine given the structure of political parties in Pakistan that Gilani will defy the president.”

The constitutional amendment was drafted by a committee made up of representatives from every party in parliament and must be approved by two-thirds of parliament to be ratified.

The committee was expected to finalize the draft amendment last week, but opposition leader Nawaz Sharif raised unexpected objections at the last minute on two issues, including the process by which judges for the high courts are chosen and the new name for one of Pakistan’s four provinces.

The various sides resolved their differences on Wednesday, paving the way for the amendment to be presented before parliament.

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