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Pakistani Parliament Approves Musharraf as President, Gives Him Broader Authority - 2003-12-30

Pakistan's 13-month-old political crisis has ended with parliament passing a constitutional amendment validating Pervez Musharraf as the nation's president.

Under the new amendment, Mr. Musharraf is legally affirmed as president, pending a vote of confidence on January 1.

The amendment also gives him the right to dissolve the legislature, although such a move would also require subsequent approval by the Supreme Court.

In exchange, Mr. Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 military coup, has agreed to resign from his post as head of the armed forces by the end of 2004.

The pro-Musharraf ruling party has long supported the amendment, proposed by Mr. Musharraf. But opposition parties had strongly opposed it, staging frequent protests to demand the president resign.

The stand-off was brought to end earlier this month through a deal with a powerful alliance of opposition religious parties, which provided the votes necessary for passage.

Some lawmakers remain opposed to the move.

Nisar Ali Khan, a legislator from the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, notes that the vote of confidence called for in the amendment is not the same thing as a public election. "What makes it ominous is the fact that you have a president who has never been elected by the people of Pakistan," said Mr. Khan.

He adds that the new amendment also undermines the sovereignty of parliament, a central principle in Pakistani democracy.

Ayaz Amir, a noted Pakistani political commentator, says regardless of the constitutional changes, many will still question President Musharraf's right to rule. "As far as the public's perception is concerned, that remains where it is," he said. "President Musharraf is no more a legitimate president now than he was before the passage."

But the president's supporters say the new amendment proves that he is willing to play by the rules, in contrast to Pakistan's three previous military leaders.

Under the amendment, the president will be allowed to stay in office until 2007.