Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

PAKISTAN: Political crisis over constitutional changes deepens

ISLAMABAD, 17 June 2003 (IRIN) - An outcry followed Saturday's declaration by the Speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly to the effect that the controversial Legal Framework Ordinance (LFO) had passed into law. The LFO consists of constitutional amendments introduced by the country's powerful military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, in August last year. Experts say the step taken by the Speaker could serve to legitimise the changes, effectively incorporating them into the constitution.

"This ruling has no legal standing, and the Speaker’s decision will have no impact on the credibility and legitimacy of the LFO," Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a leading opposition leader in the national legislature, told IRIN in the capital, Islamabad, on Monday.

Although the LFO has brought about many procedural changes to the constitution, such as reducing the minimum age for voters from 21 to 18 years, and bringing about a substantial increase in women's representation in parliament, it has also invested Musharraf with sweeping powers, including the authority to dismiss an elected parliament and government. It sanctioned his election to the presidency for another five years after a referendum in April last year, which he won uncontested.

"We will not recognise any amendments to the constitution without parliament’s approval. If this can happen, they will have full power to change anything the way they like," Fazlur Rehman said, adding that the opposition would push for a motion of no confidence against the Speaker. Under the country’s parliamentary rules, the Speaker, being the head of the National Assembly, is neutral; however, the opposition are accusing him of bias.

While elected under the LFO, Pakistan's strong opposition parties maintain that only an elected parliament has the right to amend the nation's three-decades-old constitution.

Fazlur Rehman maintained that after six months of negotiations the opposition had been pushed into launching an anti-government protest movement. "If the military is not willing to share any real powers, and wants an upper hand in all affairs, then the future of democracy in Pakistan hangs in the balance," he said.

However, politicians from the ruling coalition remain optimistic. Azeem Chaudhry, a senior member of the Pakistan Muslim League, told IRIN that the LFO had changed many things, including the rules governing the elections which had brought the current political order to the forefront. "Each and everything that has happened or going to happen is under the LFO, so how can they challenge it?" he asked.

He maintained that the mandate to amend the constitution was given to Musharraf by the Supreme Court in an historic decision in 2000. "This is nothing new in Pakistan; the military has always been interfering in politics. It’s a ground reality, and the opposition should live with it," he added.

But regional experts warn that the country might plunge deeper into crisis if its strong military refuses to share power with civilians. "There is no way out except for the military to come to a power-sharing arrangement, which is the first step towards a democratic transition, and there will be no way forward until and unless the LFO is completely withdrawn," Samina Ahmed, the regional director of the International Crisis Group, told IRIN in Islamabad.

While Pakistan’s economy has been recovering for the past two years because of improved financial management, reduction in corruption, and increased international assistance, experts maintain that positive economic trends could continue only if political stability increased in parallel. "Surely, the very foundation of the economy lies in political stability, and the current crisis can jeopardise any economic gains made to date," Samina said.

She warned that with the ongoing confrontation over the LFO, the governance system could crumble. "The foundations on which this political system runs are so fragile, and it is very unlikely that the system can be sustained," she said, asserting that credibility, legitimacy and continuity were absent from this system.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Governance

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