ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s National Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed a set of constitutional reforms, curbing the powers of President Asif Ali Zardari and transferring them to the prime minister and parliament.
The unpopular Zardari has backed the amendments, which still need the approval of the Senate. Analysts say they could disarm his opponents and contribute to political stability.
“It is passed unanimously,” said Fahmida Mirza, speaker of the assembly. The final vote total was 292-0.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the move had made the parliament sovereign.
“You have made parliament supreme today. We did politics of reconciliation,” Gilani told the chamber amid applause. “Today the entire nation is united.”
The amendments, crafted by parliamentarians from both ruling and opposition groups, will turn Zardari into a ceremonial head of state. But analysts say he still will maintain his hold on the Pakistan People’s Party and keep Gilani’s loyalty.
Two of the biggest privileges of past presidents, but soon to be lost by Zardari, was the power to dissolve the National Assembly and appoint the heads of the armed forces and judges. These were introduced by military dictator Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s to maintain control of the government.
In the 1990s, the National Assembly and four provincial assemblies were dissolved three times, ousting the governments of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
A leader in the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N — the party of Zardari’s chief rival, Nawaz Sharif — urged the government to focus on resolving chronic problems, including inflation, power shortages and unemployment.
“The prime minister’s responsibilities have increased,” said Nisar Ali Khan. “Now he has no excuse, this government has no excuse but to resolve people’s problems.”
He also sought parliament’s commitment to oppose any future military intervention in politics.
“Today, we all have got to give a commitment that no politician, no Pakistani will support a military dictator,” he said.
“We respect the Pakistan Army, but we like the army to protect Pakistan’s frontiers. We will not accept an army that seizes power and violates Pakistan’s constitution.”
The military has ruled Pakistan for about half of its 63 years of independence.
Editing by Chris Allbritton and Ron Popeski