President Asif Ali Zardari’s signature on Monday evening with Nawaz Sharif in attendance finally amended the Constitution of 1973.
Pakistan has now become a parliamentary democracy at least on paper and we say this quite literally because the change has happened in the Constitution. General Zia’s name has been removed we are told, but his ugly legacy obviously remains. That, unfortunately, cannot be undone with the stroke of a pen.
The infamous Article 58(2)(b) has been thrown out of the constitution as well and power has shifted to the prime minister. We are not saying ‘shifted back’ because prime ministers in this country’s history have, by and large, been quite powerless and often suffered at the hands of military adventurers and other non-democratic forces.
The president, regardless of his controversial past or even present must be appreciated and congratulated for being perhaps the first in the country’s history to have voluntarily relinquished his powers. That kind of thing is not exactly what Pakistan is known for. NWFP has a new name and while many in that province will welcome this, one fears that protests by people demanding a new province out of Hazara may intensify.
We have said it before and we will say it again – the constitutional amendment should have also addressed the requirement in the constitution that the president of the country be a Muslim. This clearly discriminatory article has regrettably been left untouched. However, at least the Senate now will have four extra seats for non-Muslims.
As for the new mechanism for appointments to the superior courts, some quarters are concerned that this will compromise the independence of the judiciary. This perception is misguided in that the new mechanism in an indication of parliament’s supremacy and is found in many thriving democracies, most notably America.
Hopefully, now the government will get on with the job of governing and addressing the many serious problems that Pakistan and it people are facing.