Monday, June 2, 2008

Quit or face impeachment, Musharraf told

ISLAMABAD - The Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the PPP on Saturday endorsed the draft of the proposed constitutional package that would do away with all the powers of the president, reduce the chief justice’s tenure to three years and rename the NWFP as the Pakhtoonkhwa.

“It is not final and now I will start dialogue with the coalition partners, the lawyers’ fraternity and the presidency for creating a consensus on the constitutional package to strengthen democracy and to ensure the supremacy of parliament,” said Co-chairman PPP Asif Ali Zardari while addressing a press conference here on Saturday at the Zardari House.

Secretary General PPP Jehangir Badr, Law Minister Farooq H Naek, Information Minister Sherry Rehman and Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervez Ashraf were also present.

Zardari, who chaired the CEC meeting before addressing the press conference, appeared to be confident that he would be able to convince his coalition partners on the package but at the same time he also announced to hold a dialogue with President Pervez Musharraf in this regard.

However, when asked whether or not he accepted President Pervez Musharraf as a constitutional president, Zardari made it clear that he and his party had never accepted President Musharraf as a ‘Constitutional President’ but were only maintaining a working relationship with him.

Asked about the proposal of impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf, Zardari said Musharraf should decide to step down voluntarily rather than facing impeachment. “We intend to walk him away, rather than impeach him away,” Zardari said.

He said the amendments would remove the president’s power to dismiss the government and transfer the authority to appoint the heads of the armed services and provincial governors to the prime minister.

Zardari provided some details of the 62-point constitutional package, but made it clear that the reforms would reverse changes made to the Constitution after Musharraf seized power in a 1999 military coup.

Law Minister Senator Farooq H Naek unveiled only those clauses that related to clipping the powers of the president and changes introduced for the provincial autonomy yet he did not disclose the details about the reforms concerning the judiciary.

Unveiling some of the salient features of the 62-point constitutional package, Senator Naek said that in order to make parliament supreme, the powers presently enjoyed by the president would be transferred to the prime minister.

These include abolition of the Article 58-2(b) of the Constitution regarding the president’s power to dissolve the National Assembly and to transfer the power to appoint the services chiefs to the prime minister.

He said under an amendment being proposed in the package, the name of the NWFP was to be changed to the Pakhtoonkhwa.

He said the Article-6 of the package proposed an amendment to the Constitution that cases of high treason be instituted against judges of high courts and the Supreme Court validating the suspension or abrogation of the Constitution and also they would cease to be the judges of the superior courts. The law minister said there was also a proposal to restrict the election of the president to two full terms.

Under another amendment, a person holding another office of profit would not be qualified to hold a public office. Similarly, the criticism of the judiciary or the armed forces would not attract disqualification for candidates to the assemblies under the Article 63 of the Constitution.

The power to appoint governors would be transferred to the prime minister. A caretaker government would be formed in consultation with the chairman of the Senate, the speaker of the National Assembly and governors of the provinces.

There is also a proposal to elect one minority member from each province to the Senate to give the minorities an effective presence in the upper house.

It would be mandatory to hold the meeting of the Council of Common Interest twice a year to address the grievances of the smaller provinces and sort out autonomy related issues. Similarly, the National Economic Council would also be made more effective and the NFC Award would be announced after three years instead of five years.

Replying to a question, Zardari said the CEC meeting had empowered him to consult the coalition partners, including PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif, ANP leader Asfandyar Wali, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the MQM and the legal fraternity.

He said the law minister would meet the leaders of the parties inside and outside parliament with a view to taking them on board on the proposed amendments.

Zardari said Aitzaz Ahsan had agreed to a suggestion that lawyers would have a meeting with the PPP leader on the issue.

Regarding his visit to the ISI headquarters a few days back, he said the ISI worked under the government of Pakistan and they could not tell him what he should do.

On fixing the tenure of the chief justice, he said the draft package also included a proposal on the tenure of the judges but a final decision had not yet been made. “Parliament will be given the authority to deal with all the issues,” he added.

Asif Ali Zardari congratulated media persons over the release of a senior journalist Rehmat Shah Afridi after long incarceration. He said talks in this respect were held with the Punjab government, which culminated in his release.

The PPP leader said they wanted to empower Balochistan in respect of mineral resources and ports, and Gwadar would be declared an economic zone. “I would visit Balochistan soon to take the people of the province into confidence,” he added.

To another question, he said the assemblies gave them a mandate to approach the UN for probe into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.

Meanwhile, the meeting also passed a resolution reposing confidence in the leadership of Zardari and authorised him to initiate a dialogue with other stakeholders to take them into confidence.

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