A constitutional revolution
Akhtar Ali Kureshi
Although we are facing a chain of crises in our beloved country and the miseries are increasing with no chance of short-term solution; now reached a historic milestone of its ultimate destiny called "A Constitutional Revolution". It is true that the dictators have changed the complexion of the 1973 Constitution which does not fulfill the wishes of general public. It is a great victory after the promulgation of the Constitution and it was an impossible task; done with smooth and amicable ambition.
The restoration of 1973 Constitution to its original form will strengthen sovereignty of the Parliament and benefit the common man, and consensus of political parties on the draft of constitutional reforms is a historic event, which would prove good omen for the country. The full realisation of 1973 Constitution would augment the responsibilities and powers of the Prime Minister. Democracy, reconciliation and harmony are the basis on which we can build the edifice of the nation's great future.
The 18th Amendment, which reverses constitutional changes adopted by former military ruler General Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf, has easily secured the two-third majority from the Parliament and passed into the Constitution, also deleting the name of General Zia as a president.
Under the constitutional reforms, the President would no longer have the power to dismiss the Prime Minister, dissolve the National Assembly as enacted multiple times in the past. Similarly, the President has been deprived of the authority to appoint the head of the country's armed forces. The 18th Amendment would put no bar on the prime ministers standing for only two terms in office, this will allow opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, who was toppled by Musharraf on October 12, 1999, to become the Prime Minister for the third time and it will be a new record in Pakistan's history. Some people think that the Prime Minister will be stronger now but in fact these constitutional amendments will strengthen institutions of the country, particularly the Parliament. This is a bill which will ensure Parliament's supremacy. The reforms will also devolve greater autonomy to the provinces and rename North West Frontier Province as Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa in a nod to its Pashtoon majority.
The transition to democracy was never expected to be a bed of roses, and two years since the elections in 2008 the sailing has been anything but smooth. However, the core institution of a democratic system — the Parliament is still very much in place and it is time to get serious about rebuilding that broken institution.
The most remarkable features of the reform package are that most of them are in harmony with the spirit of the Charter of Democracy which in a way reflects the public yearning for release from the strait jacket of authoritarian rule and a resumption of representative order. It has been proposed to purge the Constitution of the extra-democratic provisions inserted without due sanction by usurpers of power, except for such changes that were in accord with the people's demands or have subsequently been validated.
The accommodation of the federating units' demands for greater autonomy will strengthen the Federation. The committee has upheld the public demand that the President should not have the authority to dissolve the Parliament at his whim or exclusive power to make key appointments. Much of this is being respected for being in accord with the people's wishes.
It is true there were differences in the constitution committee. Quite a few notes of dissent were filed and there is nothing wrong with that. The issues raised in these notes could have been resolved as far as possible during the debates in the Parliament. This also applies to the lack of agreement on giving the NWFP a decent name and the proposal for a commission to select judges of superior courts. Both matters could have been discussed in a civilised way but quite a few personages prominent for their weight and girth deemed it prudent to flaunt their incapacity for a rational discourse.
Similarly, those who have reservations about the presence of a parliamentarian or two in the proposed judicial commission could have argued their case without parting with reason and temperateness. Instead, members of the Parliament have been subjected to a barrage of unwarranted abuse and slander. They have been condemned en bloc as a lot of cheats who have been living by fraud. The case of a couple of legislators found in possession of fake degrees has been blown out of proportion to target the institution of the Parliament itself.
It is time to stop vilifying the Parliament and other institutions of democratic system. If the practice of abusing parliamentarians left, right and centre, started by authoritarian rulers, continues; the transition to democracy will never be completed. It is true that the parliamentarians are no angels but they are entitled to respect as representatives elected by the people to serve them.
As democratic traditions take root the people will have possibilities of electing better men and women to represent them and weed out the black sheep among them. That is the only legitimate means of dealing with legislators unworthy of people's trust. This constitutional revolution is just a step away as both the houses have passed the constitutional amendment's bill and last signature of the President is just a formality in the circumstances and will soon be completed. This revolution will definitely bring a culture and atmosphere of democracy to continue to move on the path of prosperity which this poor nation deserves and waiting since long.
The writer is an Advocate of Supreme Court of Pakistan, Clinical Law Professor, Freelance columnist, member of International Bar Association, London and former Assistant Advocate General Punjab