Posted by: Rehan Today | March 25, 2010

Constitution set for overhaul, consensus on amendments

ISLAMABAD: For the first time in the country’s parliamentary history, the Constitution will undergo a major overhaul as one-fourth of its articles are being amended with a ‘consensus’.

The all-party Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms, headed by Senator Raza Rabbani, has suggested more than 100 amendments to over 70 articles of the Constitution, sources told Dawn on Wednesday.

Besides removing person-specific changes made arbitrarily by military rulers through legal framework orders (LFOs), and which were later endorsed by parliament, the Rabbani committee has also suggested some crucial changes in the articles dealing with provincial autonomy.

Although the proposed 18th Constitution Amendment Bill carries some two dozen dissenting notes submitted by all political parties, except the PPP, committee members say the notes will not block the changes proposed in the Constitution.

The parties have decided that they will finalise the draft with consensus and if any party has reservations about some proposals, it will be allowed to submit a note of dissent to bring its viewpoint on record.

The committee, which was formed last year in the light of promises made by the PPP and the PML-N to repeal the controversial 17th Amendment, had to go for a review of the entire Constitution after smaller and nationalist parties refused to agree on anything short of complete provincial autonomy.

In a landmark achievement, the committee has suggested some major changes in the Constitution, giving more administrative, financial and political autonomy to the provinces.

Interviews with leaders of smaller parties revealed that they were more than happy with a proposal to abolish the Concurrent List from the Constitution, giving the provinces rights to do legislation on a number of subjects which have hitherto been under the control of the federal government.

Although some nationalist parties are not “fully satisfied”, particularly with amendments to the articles dealing with financial autonomy, they term the package historic.

Despite desire of some parties, the committee, however, did not touch the articles dealing with the Islamic provisions of the Constitution, fearing a possible public reaction.

The committee saw many ups and downs during its more than six months working and at one stage even PPP leaders criticised the rigid attitude of smaller parties for making the task difficult for the committee.

Although the PPP and the PML-N in the past used to call for complete repeal of the 17th Amendment, the committee has proposed to retain some clauses of the 17th Amendment and the LFO issued by former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf.

Political experts do see a logic in retaining the clauses of LFO and 17th Amendment, through which the number of assembly seats has been increased and the voter’s age reduced, but they are surprised to see that the changes made in the articles dealing with qualifications and disqualifications of parliamentarians have been retained, albeit with some minor changes.

These changes have been made by the former military rulers only to keep certain individuals out of the election race.

The committee has also suggested transfer of powers from the president to the prime minister in line with the original Constitution of 1973. In order to stop military interventions, the committee has suggested an amendment to the Article 6, proposing that any person validating military takeovers will also be charged with treason. Besides some steps for judicial reforms, the committee also proposed changes to make the Election Commission more independent and powerful.

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