Democracy without Security? Pakistan’s Return to Parliamentary Democracy
At long last, President Asif Zardari signed into law the 18th amendment which will drastically curb his presidential powers. It is no mean feat, as the pressure of opposition parties and his own to do so has been immense.
The amendment takes away the president’s powers to dismiss the parliament and shifts to the prime minister the authority to appoint the chiefs of the three military services. Those powers were acquired by Mr. Musharraf to strengthen his hold on power.
“This is an historic day,” Law Minister Babar Awan told dignitaries gathered at the presidential offices.
“For the first time in the history of this country, a democratically elected president has voluntarily given up his power back to the parliament of this country,” he said.
“It is my hope that the doors of dictatorship are closed forever,” Zardari said after signing the 18th amendment to Pakistan’s 1973 parliamentary constitution.
The bill also abolishes a clause barring the election of a prime minister for more than two terms. This would allow the popular Sharif, who was toppled by Musharraf in 1999, to become prime minister again. And what a misuse of the amendment that would be. Sharif who has been prime minister twice and failed to serve a full term is far from the kind of new leadership Pakistan so desperately needs.
The amendments will effectively make Zardari a titular head of state who can only formally appoint heads of the armed forces, dissolve the national assembly and appoint provincial governors on the advice of the prime minister. As part of the reform package, North West Frontier Province (NWFP) has officially been renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as part of the reforms (more on that in another post).
Yet in the same day as this apparent ‘victory’ for democracy, Pakistan is once again rocked by suicide attacks. The fact is that while this may be a small step towards reeling back the draconian rule of previous military rulers it makes little or no difference to the majority of Pakistanis. Security remains an issue but not just in the context of terrorist attacks. Food, water and energy security is what most Pakistanis would like their government to be able to provide for them. And few governments military or ‘democratic’ have ever given Pakistanis ‘roti, kapra, ghar’ (food, clothes, house). Before a government can expect its people to ‘rejoice’ in the democratic process it has to provide them with security first.
The views expressed by the author are personal.
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