The proposed amendments are under scathing criticism and debate country wide mainly from politicians and the lawyers forum.


July 22 - 28, 2002



The government floated the second constitutional package for public comments which raises the number of constitutional offices to nearly two dozens which can be filled at the discretion of the President. The package released by the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) has also suggested modifications in articles dealing with legislative list and the council of common interest and allowing supreme judicial council to initiative inquiries at its own besides providing cover to the local government system accountability process and checks on birth of turn-coats in the parliament.

The first constitutional package which was announced last month is being heatedly debated in the print and electronic media these days and is being widely criticised from almost all the stakeholders. The first package mainly dealt with the constitution of the National Security Council and minimum educational qualification (BA) for being a candidate for seats in the National and Provincial Assemblies and the Senate. It further provided that, a) loan defaulters will not be able to contest elections, b) politicians with corruption cases or sentences in various crimes will be disqualified, c) absconder politicians or sentenced in absentia will be disqualified to contest election, d) political party securing less than ten per cent of the total votes cast in the election on general seats shall not be entitled to any seats; party getting less than five per cent votes will not get any seat in Senate and e) the governor can nominate any member of the provincial assembly as chief minister.

The proposed amendments are under scathing criticism and debate country wide mainly from politicians and the lawyers forum. One of the proposed amendments which deals with the educational (BA degree) qualifications was challenged by some stakeholders in the Supreme Court which last weeks, after 4/5 days continuous hearings, rejected the petitions and endorsed the proposed amendment. All the Bar Association observed a country wide strikes against the proposed amendments in the constitution as a protest, however, they have decided not to move the apex court in this regard. The former chief justice of Pakistan Mr. Justice (Retd) Sajjad Ali Shah has, in an article published in a national daily, ruled that President General Musharraf was not legally competent to amend the constitution.

Apart from the complex question of legality, the proposed package contains many good proposals which were explained in details by President Gen. Musharraf in his address to the nation on Friday last later followed on Saturday by a 3 hours long briefing to a large group of newspapers editors and columnist. Gen. Musharraf appeared sincere and well intentioned when he come out with a passionate and forceful defence of his proposed amendment in the constitution which he said were motivated by national interest alone. He said he was not power hungry and will transfer all powers of the Chief Executive to the elected Prime Minister. The proposed National Security Council (NSC) would provide an effective mechanism to exercise check not only on Prime Minister but all power brokers i.e. the president and the army chief and restrict them to their constitutional role to ensure uninterrupted continuity of democracy in the country. Besides exercising checks the NSC would also strengthen the President and the Prime Minister to effectively run the country without any confrontation inviting the army chief to mediate "None of them will exceed his power and authority" Gen. Musharraf added.

Candidly talking to a fairly large group of newspapers' editors and columnists General Pervez Musharraf repeatedly asserted that his government was open to sincerely discuss the need and validity of all the constitutional amendments, which National Reconstruction Bureau had suggested for establishing the sustainable democratic order in Pakistan. "One thing is for sure, though call it the National Security Council or whatever,' there has to be an institution to watch over the doings of a Prime Minister and the central and provincial governments, coming forth after elections in October 2002. The services' chiefs would also sit in the said institution to be chaired by the President," he emphatically maintained.

Most of the spirited talk of the General remained rather focused on elaborating the need for such an institution. He didn't hesitate to concede that armed forces are taking a back seat in most of the post-Berlin Wall world. But the ground realities were different in Pakistan. According to him, "here the armed forces are expected to play some political role and intrude if the elected governments appear malfunctioning. Also relevant is the perpetual chaos, Pakistan endured throughout 1990s with comings and goings to elected governments."

President Musharraf was undoubtedly candid, forthright and unambiguous in the review of the political and constitutional maladies that the nation is suffering from as well as in his articulation of the solution through the proposed constitutional amendments. The nation, which has already suffered a great deal due to corruption, misrule and political and financial irregularities due to impulsive conduct of the successive governments, cannot obviously afford return of the same era of loot, plunder and mis-governance. There ought to be check against mal-administration, malfunctioning, corruption and poor governance for the sake of efficient and fair administration in the country. It is, however, essential to ensure that the other power brokers are also restrained from interfering in the smooth functioning of the government. The provision for removal of the Prime Minister and his cabinet being inserted into article 58(2)b is seemingly a positive way out to avoid derailment of democracy in the country. But the Damocles' sword of removal should not perpetually dangle on the Prime Minister's head, lest his attention is focused to keep the President, Chief of Army Staff and the NSC satisfied, rather than devoting himself to the national issues, as was the case in the past for keeping his majority in the National Assembly. The sovereignty of the Parliament should also not be mauled and muzzled as a result of over-exuberance for check and balance. Ironically, the Parliament has not figured anywhere in the proposed process of good governance. The inclusion of the Leader of the Opposition in the NSC is certainly a good decision, as it will be a balancing factor in any crucial decision. Similarly, the constitutional guarantee to the heads of NAB, FPSC and SBP will go a long way in strengthening the State institutions, besides having positive impact on the governance.