ISLAMABAD, May 24: The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Saturday unveiled some major points of the 18th Constitution Amendment Bill aimed at cutting the presidency to size, ensuring the reinstatement of deposed judges and making the parliament sovereign in real terms.
The party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC), through a resolution, authorised its co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari, to hold consultations with the coalition partners, lawyers’ representatives and President Pervez Musharraf on a draft of the amendment bill, which the party intends to table in the National Assembly next month.
Briefing reporters after the CEC meeting, Mr Zardari kept up his latest tirade against President Musharraf, saying his party had never considered him a “constitutional president”.
He, however, admitted that the party had maintained a “working relationship” with President Musharraf and would consult him over the constitutional package with a hope that he might quit office of his own accord.
“We want him to walk him away rather than impeach him away,” was Mr Zardari’s frank comment in reply to a question about any possibility of President Musharraf’s impeachment.
“We will definitely hold dialogue with the general (Musharraf) on the package and get its approval from the cabinet,” Mr Zardari said.
The party will hold a dialogue with the establishment, too, “believing that the whole world is with us”, Mr Zardari asserted.
According to PPP sources, there was a difference of opinion within the CEC whether the party should take President Musharraf into confidence about the proposed constitutional package or not. A minority opposed any contact whatsoever with the presidency as, according to them, it could erode the party’s popularity.
Those in favour of taking the president into confidence were divided on whether the party should hold direct talks or through interlocutors.
The matter was settled after the CEC authorised Mr Zardari to hold talks with coalition partners and the president in whatever way he wanted.
Another controversy arising out of the package pertained to Article 270-AAA, which was incorporated into the constitution by Gen Pervez Musharraf after bypassing the parliament and which amounts to indemnifying all his actions since Nov 3, the proclamation of emergency included.
The PPP co-chairman and Law Minister Farooq Naek were vague on the issue and it remained unclear whether the proposed amendment would be made in the document as it existed before Nov 3 or in the one that has already incorporated 270-AAA.
During the briefing, Mr Zardari asked Mr Naek to explain salient features of the proposed package, saying the draft would be made available to the media after handing it over to other coalition partners.
The package, according to Mr Zardari, will be a step towards the “majesty of the parliament” and will not only take away the president’s power to dismiss the government, but will also transfer his authority to appoint provincial governors and the services chiefs to the prime minister.
The proposed amendments also include a bar on a president running for office for more than two terms.
CJ TENURE: Mr Zardari parried questions about any proposal to reduce the tenure of the chief justice. However, according to some insiders, the package contains proposals to limit the tenure of the chief justice to three years and raise the retirement age of the judges of high court and the Supreme Court.
Sources told Dawn that Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, who is also the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, raised objection on the proposal of fixing the CJ’s tenure, but he was cooled down by Mr Zardari by declaring that the proposed draft was not a “sanctified document” and it could be changed.
He asked Mr Ahsan to arrange his meetings with the lawyers’ community so that he could hold dialogue with them on the issue of the judges’ restoration.
PAKHTOONKHWA: Accommodating the ANP’s demand, the PPP has proposed an amendment to Article 1 of the Constitution under which the name of the NWFP (North West Frontier Province) will be changed to “Pakhtoonkhwa.” Through another amendment to Article 6 of the constitution, it has been suggested that the judges of the higher courts who will validate military takeovers in future and take oath under provisional constitution orders (PCOs) will render them to be tried under high treason.
Another proposal seeks to give minorities representation in the Senate. The bill suggests that there should be five minority members — one from each province and federal capital — in the Senate that will make the total number of the members of the upper house to 105 from existing 100.
The bill also suggests amendment to Article 63 dealing with the disqualification of a person from becoming a member of the parliament. Under the existing provision given in Article 63(g), a person who defames or “brings into ridicule the judiciary or the armed forces” cannot become a member of the parliament. Now, there will be no such provision in the constitution, if the proposed bill is passed.
The bill also proposes that in future, caretaker governments at centre and provinces will be appointed in consultation with prime minister, senate chairman and speakers of the National and provincial assemblies.
The PPP is in favour of doing away with the law under which an elected person can hold two government offices simultaneously. Besides this, the proposed bill also envisages abolition of concurrent list to grant more autonomy to the provinces. The party has also suggested that Council of Common Interests (CCI) and National Finance Commission (NFC) be made more effective in order to remove grievances of the provinces on major issues.
• Article 58-2(B), which gives the president powers to dismiss an elected government and dissolve the National Assembly, will be abolished.
• The president’s authority to appoint provincial governors and the services chiefs will be transferred to the prime minister.
• There will be a bar on a person running for the office of president for more than two terms.
• A three-year tenure for the chief justice proposed.
• Name of the NWFP will be changed to “Pakhtoonkhwa”.
• Through amendment to Article 6, those judges who validate military takeovers in future and take oath under a PCO to be tried for high treason.
• Minorities to have representation in Senate.
• Through an amendment to Article 63, a person who defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the armed forces will not be disqualified from contesting elections.
• Caretaker governments at the centre and provinces will be appointed in consultation with prime minister, Senate chairman and speakers of the National and provincial assemblies.
• The law under which an elected person can hold two government offices simultaneously will be done away with.
• The Council of Common Interests and the NFC will be made more effective. It will be mandatory on the CCI to meet twice in a year.