With the Committee on Constitutional Reforms (CCR) presenting its draft to the presiding officers of the National Assembly and the Senate on Thursday, the country is now poised for a major overhaul of its governance structure.
Besides the repeal of the 17th Amendment by which the former President, Pervez Musharraf, had transferred decisive powers to the presidency, the draft has done away with the Concurrent List to give more provincial autonomy and makes out a case for putting in place institutional mechanisms for making key appointments.
The draft was finalised late on Wednesday night by the 26-member all-party committee after a consensus was worked out on the two contentious issues that had stalled the process: renaming the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and setting up a judicial commission for appointment of judges. The draft was signed with considerable fanfare around midnight in full view of the media and this was followed up in the morning with the submission of the report to the two presiding officers.
As per the draft, NWFP will now be rechristened Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa and the judicial commission will have seven members with the judiciary having higher representation and the chair. Decisions made by this commission will be sent to the eight-member Parliamentary committee that will be set up to oversee all crucial appointments.
This oversight committee will have eight members; four each from the government and the opposition. Both Houses of Parliament will find equal representation in this committee which seeks to take away the discretionary power of the government in making appointments to key posts like that of the Attorney-General and the Federal Public Service Commission. This oversight committee can over-rule decisions made by the respective institutional mechanisms if six of the eight members disagree with the recommendation referred to it.
One of the most contentious issues addressed by the CCR pertains to provincial autonomy. After considerable wrangling, it has decided to do away with the entire Concurrent List which had 43 items. In turn, the Committee has recommended that the Council of Common Interest — a body comprising representatives of the federal government and Chief Ministers —be strengthened to supervise matters of the federation.
Another key recommendation relates to the conduct of elections. While the Election Commission will be strengthened, there is a proposal to set up neutral governments ahead of all elections national and provincial to serve as a caretaker dispensation. This caretaker government will be run by people selected jointly by the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition, says the draft of 18th Amendment that seeks to put the country firmly on a one-way track to democracy.