ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s National Assembly on Thursday passed unanimously a set of constitutional reforms that curb the powers of the unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari and transfer them to the prime minister and parliament.
Zardari has backed the amendments, which still need the approval of the Senate. Analysts say the changes could disarm his opponents and contribute to political stability.
The powers were introduced by a military dictator, Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, in the 1980s.
Once the package is approved by the upper house, Zardari will become a titular head of state.
Here are some of the important amendments in the package:
— The president will have no authority to dissolve the national assembly, the lower house of the parliament, and impose emergency rule on his own. This power, introduced by Zia, led to the ouster of prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in the 1990s.
— Courts will no longer be able to validate the suspension of the constitution, which has long been a tool of dictators to legitimize their coups. This has hindered civilian governments’ attempts to try a former military leader, Pervez Musharraf, for treason. The military has ruled for half of Pakistan’s 63 years of independence.
— The prime minister and his ministers will exercise executive authority instead of the president. Similarly, chief ministers will be the executive power in provinces.
— The power to appoint judges will be given to a seven-member judicial commission headed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
— The president will no longer appoint the chief election commissioner. Instead, a parliamentary committee will select one of three people nominated by the prime minister.
— After the end of a government’s term, the president will be bound to appoint a caretaker prime minister in consultations with the outgoing prime minister and opposition leader. The same procedure will be followed by governors in provinces.
— In a bid to stop backroom deals among parliamentarians for the premiership, the elections of the prime minister and chief ministers will no longer be conducted by secret ballot.
— In the event of an internal disturbance, the president cannot impose emergency rule in a province unilaterally, but instead will require a resolution from the provincial assembly. In other cases, he shall seek approval from both houses of parliament within 10 days of his unilateral action.
— The president will continue to appoint the heads of the armed forces but only with a binding recommendation from the prime minister. Previously, he only had to consult the prime minister, whose views were not binding.
— The name of North West Frontier Province will be changed to “Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa” to reflect the main ethnic group of the region.
— The two-term limit on prime ministers will be lifted, allowing opposition leader and two-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to try for another term.
Editing by Chris Allbritton and Jerry Norton