PPP govt finalises constitutional package

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Islamabad, May 20 (UNI) The ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has almost completed a draft of the Constitution Amendment Bill, aimed at carving the way for reinstating deposed judges and 'balancing the powers between the President and the Prime Minister.' Dawn newspaper quoted sources as saying that the PPP leadership was set to table the bill in the National Assembly and reinstate the judges through a resolution in a joint sitting of the two houses of parliament by the end of this month.

The party's co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari, yesterday put off his planned visit to Balochistan and held lengthy consultations with Law Minister Farooq Naek and other legal experts on the draft.

Mr Zardari has convened a meeting of the party's Central Executive Committee (CEC) in Islamabad on May 24 to take into confidence on the draft and the proposed resolution on the judges' issue.

It will be the first time that the party leadership will take CEC members into confidence on the issue.

After taking the CEC into confidence, the PPP leadership will contact its coalition partners -- Pakistan Muslim League-N, Awami National Party and Jamiatul UIema-e-Islam -- on the issue.

The sources said the party wanted to end the judicial crisis before the budget session of the National Assembly, expected in the first week of next month.

The party leadership, it has been learnt, is even prepared for a delayed budget session.

The sources said Article 58(2b) of the Constitution was going to be repealed through the proposed bill. The provision empowers the president to dissolve the National Assembly. It was repealed by the second government of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif in 1997, but was re-introduced through the Legal Framework Order (LFO) by President Pervez Musharraf in 2003. It was later validated by parliament through the 17th Amendment.

An amendment to Article 6 (high treason) and other relevant acts is also on the cards to deter judges from taking a fresh oath of allegiance to military rulers through Provisional Constitution Order and validating abrogation or suspension of the Constitution, the paper added.

The amendment will hold such judges guilty of conniving with a dictator and render them liable to be tried under the treason act.

It is not clear what conditions will be attached to the reinstatement of the judges. A reduction in the tenure of chief justice is being seen by observers as quite likely.

The sources said Mr Zardari would hold more consultations with his legal aides on the issue over the next couple of days.

Under the proposed package, President would lose the power to appoint Army Chief, other services chiefs and Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), the sources said.

It would bring about a fundamental change in the process of appointing the CEC and provide financial autonomy to the Election Commission in line with the Charter of Democracy which the PPP and PML(N) signed in London in 2006.

Under the charter, CEC should be appointed on the advice of the prime minister through a committee comprising the leader of the opposition and representatives of all parties having representation in parliament.

The committee will also have the power to conduct public hearings before finalising the name.

UNI XC PD KN1210

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