Will President Zardari scrap Article 58(2)b?

Posted: August 25, 2008 in Political
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Asif Ali Zardari would not like to become another Fazal Elahi Chaudhry after he becomes the head of the state, Pakistan People’s Party insiders told The News here on Sunday.

Background interviews with some important PPP leaders established that Zardari, arguably the strongest man now on the national scene after the bowing out of Pervez Musharraf, would like to retain and wield sweeping powers.

A member of the federal cabinet, who did not want to be mentioned in the story, said that so far the issue of retaining or striking down the controversial 58(2)b from the Constitution had not been discussed during the ongoing consultations.

However, he added that the party would definitely look afresh into the much-criticised 17th Amendment to undo certain parts of it. “But one thing is certain, he will never become a president who will be just a symbolic head of the state like Fazal Elahi,” he made it clear.

Pakistan’s president has historically been a largely ceremonial official, but former president Musharraf changed the Constitution of 1973 to give the office holder broad powers, including the ability to dismiss parliament under the controversial 58(2)b.

It is interesting to note that it was the late military ruler Zia-ul-Haq who amended the Constitution to make the controversial clause a part of it. But it was thrown out by former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif with the support of none other than the late PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto.

Musharraf again inserted the 58(2)b clause in the Constitution through the 17th Amendment, in 2004, invoking massive criticism from majority of political forces, mainly both two-time prime ministers ñ Mian Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto.

Dr Babar Awan, PPP’s Central Finance Secretary, a close aide of Zardari, when approached on telephone and asked what would be the fate of the clause which could send the assemblies packing any time, gave a terse and cautious remark: “PPP and Asif Ali Zardari will take up the pending legislative agenda, after he becomes the president.”

Nawaz Sharif, while reacting to the PPP decision to nominate Zardari as its presidential candidate, said, “It is the prerogative of the PPP to nominate its candidate for the office of the president if the 17th Amendment is scrapped.”

When referred to the PML leader’s statement, Senator Babar Awan said that all pending business, including the 17th Amendment, would be before the new president as well as the party and the allies at an appropriate time. The PPP parliamentarian maintained that his party, along with its allied partners, would run the system in a truly democratic way.

Another PPP leader, who also has a ministerial slot, requesting anonymity, made a spontaneous comment: “There are still some ifs and buts. Name of the Speaker National Assembly Dr Fehmida Mirza is also under consideration for the coveted slot.” He also was cautious in making a comment on Zardari agreeing to become a weak president and said only time and the situation after the presidential election would determine what type the new head of the state would be.

The PPP leader said that the party had been, throughout, opposed to this clause, which was like the sword of Damocles for an elected parliament.

Adviser to the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs Izhar Amrohvi said the PPP had prepared a constitutional package and more legislative business would be in the pipeline within the next few weeks. He said that the PPP believes in the supremacy of parliament, when asked about the fate of Article 58(2)b.

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