Accessibility links

Pakistani Opposition Vows to Fight Proposed Constitutional Changes - 2003-08-21


Opposition lawmakers in Pakistan vow to continue their fight against controversial constitutional changes introduced by President Pervez Musharraf.

The opposition campaign against the constitutional amendments has crippled the political process and the working of the legislature in Pakistan ever since it opened in November.

The agitation continued on Wednesday, when opposition lawmakers walked out of the first session of the lower house of Parliament in six weeks. They insist that President Pervez Musharraf's amendments are illegal and must be placed before the Parliament for approval.

President Musharraf, an army general who took power in a military coup in 1999, amended the constitution just before national elections last October to restore democracy.

The changes allowed Mr. Musharraf to continue as president and the chief of the army for five more years, so that he can oversee the pro-military government of Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali. The amendments also give him power to dismiss the elected government and dissolve Parliament.

Several rounds of talks between the government and opposition parties have failed to break the deadlock over the president's sweeping powers.

Ehsan Iqbal is a leader of the opposition party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

"Opposition parties are demanding that it's Parliament, which is competent to amend the constitution," he said. "And General Musharraf is refusing to present his amendments before the Parliament. If he can do it, the crisis will be resolved, otherwise this impasse will continue and this may further deepen the crisis."

Mr. Iqbal says the government and opposition have been unable to resolve the crisis because he says Prime Minister Jamali is a weak leader who does not want to upset President Musharraf. "Whatever commitments they make with the opposition parties, once they go back and report to the president and they never turn back," said Mr. Iqbal. "So they are not able to deliver on what they negotiate or on what they promise in the negotiations. So that is the basic dilemma that we have a government which is not competent, which is not powerful and then we have a president who is all powerful and it this dichotomy of power which is paralyzing the whole system."

Under Pakistan's constitution, Parliament must be in session for a minimum of four months each year. However, because of noisy opposition protests during the sessions, it has met for only 47 days since it opened in November. And, many political observers say, those days were not productive.

Now, to meet the constitutional requirement, Parliament must stay in session almost continuously for the next three months. The government, which holds only a slim majority of seats, vows to do just that, no matter what the opposition does.

Speaking at a conference in the Pakistani capital this week, President Musharraf dismissed concerns he may dissolve Parliament if the political crisis persists.

"This assembly will function for the years because we want democracy to mature in Pakistan," he said. "So therefore this political instability has to be removed. But since a democracy is functioning we will follow a democratic and constitutional path to resolve these disputes."

The president insists he amended the constitution to guide Pakistan toward a stable democracy. But his critics say previous military leaders kept themselves in power with similar maneuvers, and as a result, the military has ruled for more than half of the country's 56-year history.

XS
SM
MD
LG