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Pakistan's Parliament Approves Reforms Stripping President of Some Powers


Pakistani lawmakers have passed a constitutional amendment that strips President Asif Ali Zardari of powers originally given to the presidency by the country's former military dictator two decades ago.

Lawmakers in Pakistan's upper house have passed a series of key reforms to the country's constitution. Senate Chairman Farooq Naik announced the result of the final vote live on state-run television.

"The motion is carried by the votes of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate. And consequently, the bill stands passed," he said.

The lower house passed the reforms unanimously last week and the next step is approval from President Asif Ali Zardari, who is expected to sign the reforms into law.

Lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties drafted the constitutional changes, which will turn the president into a ceremonial head of state.

In the 1980s, military ruler Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq assumed several powers to maintain control of the government, including the power to dissolve parliament and appoint judges and the heads of the country's armed forces. These powers will now go to the parliament and the office of the prime minister.

A Senate opposition leader, Wasim Sajjad of the PML-Q party, addressed Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who attended the vote. "Mr. Prime Minister, today you are a powerful man," he said. "The responsibility, the power, everything you have, now the country wants you to deliver. And I hope and pray and I wish that you will come up to the expectations of the people."

But there has been much controversy regarding a clause of the new 18th amendment that renames the North West Frontier Province to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The new name will reflect the Pashtun ethnic majority of the province, which predominately speaks Pashto.

But the province's Hindko-speaking population has been protesting the name change since last week. The protesters say they want the province's name to remain unchanged or they will demand a separate province that will reflect their majority in the south.

On Monday, the demonstrations turned violent, leaving at least seven people dead and more than 100 others wounded.

But analysts say this request does not seem likely because it does not appear to have two-thirds approval in the Parliament.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani addressed the controversy.

He says that his sympathies are with the people of Hazara and he urges the provincial government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to make sure that those people are properly included as the renamed province moves forward.

Many in Pakistan believe the 18th amendment will lead to political stability, allowing the government to pay more attention to its fight against the Taliban in the regions bordering Afghanistan.

But critics remain skeptical about the constitutional changes, saying President Zardari, who remains the head of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, will still be able to exert his influence on the prime minister. Mr. Gilani is a member of the president's party and is considered a Zardari loyalist.

In addition, as party leader Mr. Zardari has the power to dismiss PPP politicians from power, including the prime minister.

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