Armed with across-the-political spectrum support, Pakistan sought to return to parliamentary democracy and a federal structure on Friday with the tabling of the report of the Committee on Constitutional Reforms (CCR) in the National Assembly.
Given the unanimity, the 18th Amendment drafted by the all-party CCR is expected to sail through Parliament before President Asif Ali Zardari puts his signature to legislation that weakens his office. Though the President can still dissolve the National Assembly as per the proposed legislation, he can do so only on the advice of the Prime Minister and not at will as has been the case for several years now.
While the repeal of the 17th Amendment — by which former President Pervez Musharraf usurped Parliament's power — is the most sought-after change that the 18th Amendment seeks to bring, the return to a federal structure with provinces getting more powers — complete with the abolition of the Concurrent List — has been another choppy sea that the Committee has managed to cross.
The draft of the Bill was tabled in the National Assembly by CCR chairman Raza Rabbani in the presence of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani who described it as a “historic moment,” one which will make citizens stakeholders in the nation's progress. Describing the draft as a symbol of “reconciliation and dialogue,” Mr. Rabbani said the 99 amendments were aimed at decentralising power.
In a bid to “insure” the Constitution against despotic rule, the CCR has billed as “high treason” any attempt to abrogate, subvert, suspend or hold in abeyance the Constitution. Three new fundamental rights have been introduced in the proposed regime: The Right to Fair Trial, the Right to Information, and the Right to (free and compulsory) Education for all children in the five-to-16 age-group.
The 18th Amendment also fixes the strength of the federal Council of Ministers at 11 per cent of the total membership of Parliament. The same would apply to provinces. But given the small size of the Balochistan legislature (65), an exception has been made with the proviso that provincial ministries can have a maximum of 15 Ministers.
Governor of province has to be a resident and a registered voter of that province. And, the Speaker of the Assembly will step in as acting Governor in the incumbent's absence. In keeping with the delegation of powers to the provinces, the CCR has decided that provincial assemblies should increase their working from 70 days a year to 100.
Mr. Rabbani said: “This is a Bill of hope, a Bill of people's emancipation, a Bill of a federal Pakistan,” where the country will draw on the strength of its provinces and the institutional mechanisms that will be put in place.