A page in Pakistan's history was turned on Monday with President Asif Ali Zardari signing the 18th Amendment Bill that transfers the powers of the presidency to Parliament and brings back the 1973 Constitution drafted during the regime of his father-in-law Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
For Pakistan — which has seen the post of Prime Minister being suspended five times due to some form of military intervention and where no Premier has ever completed a full term — this was billed as the smoothest transition ever from one form of government to another.
And, it had across-the-political-spectrum support with the entire opposition lined up to witness and celebrate what Mr. Zardari described as a moment of reconciliation. “We have adopted national reconciliation as our compass,” he said moments after he put his signature to a piece of legislation that weakens his own office.
Lauding all politicians for making this moment possible, Mr. Zardari pointed out that collectively, the political class of the nation had silenced critics and cynics who had doubted their ability to deliver on the promise to restore democracy and rid the Constitution of all the distortions that had crept in over the past three decades.
Earlier, addressing the gathering, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani also sought to underscore the political will shown by parliamentarians to bury their differences on a host of issues — including the hotly-contested renaming of the North-West Frontier Province which led to violence and deaths on the eve of the vote on the Bill in the Senate — and described the “smooth transition” as unprecedented.
While hailing the role of parliamentarians, he also made it a point to highlight the role of his party co-chairman, Mr. Zardari, in this whole endeavour. “It is an unprecedented event in the political history of Pakistan that a leader has willingly transferred power in such a smooth process.”
Probably in reference to the cynicism that is felt among the masses about this transition — bearing as they are the brunt of long power outages, water shortage, price rise and terrorism — the Prime Minister acknowledged that democracy would be of poor consolation unless it is backed by a visible attempt to address the challenges confronting the common man. “Democracy cannot be strengthened by words alone unless these are matched by deeds,” he said.
Assuring the political class that he was committed to the path of reconciliation, Mr. Gilani urged his political opponents to join hands with the government to build the welfare state envisaged by Pakistan's founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah