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KARACHI, Jan 1: President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday gave assent to the 19th Amendment Bill and termed the document a new year’s gift to the nation.

The signing ceremony was held at Bilawal House and attended by Senate Chairman Farooq H. Naek, National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms Mian Raza Rabbani, Law Minister Babar Awan, Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad and Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah.

In his brief speech after signing the document, President Zardari said that 18th and 19th amendments attested to the determination of the political leadership to pass on a consensus document to posterity. He lavished praise on the judiciary for contributing to passage of the amendments.

He said the consensus document not only reflected “majesty of law and supremacy of the judiciary” but also represented a defeat for what he called “political actors” who had tried to pit institutions against each other. “Despite the political divide and contentious issues, the political leadership has shown maturity and arrived at a consensus in a charged environment”.

President Zardari said amendments had also been made in the past, but these could not last because of an absence of consensus. “The 1973 Constitution has survived because it is a consensus document.”

He reaffirmed his commitment to continuing the policy of reconciliation and said that despite having a majority, the PPP would take coalition partners and others along for strengthening democratic institutions.

The president said that in future legislation would be made in consultation with all political forces. “The political leadership has dispelled fears of confrontation between institutions and those predicting confrontation among them stand disappointed today.”

The amendment envisaged a new system for appointment in superior courts, aimed at removing a source of discord between the judiciary and parliament. It was passed by the Senate on Dec 30 and by the National Assembly on Dec 22.

Speaking on the occasion, Senator Rabbani said the passage of the 19th Amendment was a “historic success of democratic forces”. The amendment, he added, was a proof that political leaders, despite their differences, were mature enough to reach a consensus.

Credit went to all political parties, he said, for having shown sagacity. “All constitutional organisations are functioning within their domain and the political system is getting stronger day by day.”

Under the new amendment, the number of senior judges in the Judicial Commission has been raised to four and the strength of the Parliamentary Committee for the appointment of chief election commissioner has risen to 12.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan will make recommendations for the appointment of ad hoc judges in superior courts in consultation with the Judicial Commission. In case of dissolution of the National Assembly, members of the parliamentary committee will be taken from the Senate.

The amendment also makes it essential for members of the bar council to have at least 15 years of experience for appointment to the Judicial Commission.

Law Minister Babar Awan told reporters it was for the first time in the country’s history that “all decisions are being taken with consensus”.

He said the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court would take oath at the Governor’s House in Karachi on Monday.

Four MQM leaders – Raza Haroon, Syed Sardar Ahmad, Dr Sagheer and Adil Siddiqui – also attended the signing ceremony. Political analysts read their presence as a sign of thaw between the People’s Party and Muttahida.

Talking to reporters, Raza Haroon termed the event a landmark one and said the Muttahida believed in democracy.