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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

It was “Benazir Day” as Pakistan’s President Zardari in his address to the Parliament rightly said “we are making history by restoring the 1973 Constitution in its original form”. Amendments by dictators had disfigured the 1973 Constitution– designed to be Parliamentary in letter and spirit– beyond recognition. It was overly converted in an over-centralised Presidential system—all powers vesting in one person.

The unanimous adoption by the National Assembly of the 18th amendment is, indeed, a historic feat—secondly only to the framing of the 1973 constitution itself. The land mark amendment has turned the clock back undoing the damage to Pakistan’s polity inflicted by successive military dictators who tried to usurp powers through unconstitutional means.

The consensus on the 18th Amendment reached by the legislators of every political spectrum was declared impossible to achieve by sceptics who had been orchestrating that President Zardari will not abide by the pledge given by Bhutto to restore the 1973 Constitution to its original glory. 8th of April will go down in Pakistan’s history as day of the fulfilment of that promise.

The office of the Prime Minister has been restored the powers that it enjoyed in 1973. Doomsayers were sceptical about the return of true parliamentary form of government without a showdown between the offices of the President and the Prime Minister. Doubts were expressed regarding the restoration of a balance of powers between the two offices and the doing away of the powers ofthe President to dismiss a government.

The fatally critical issue of the quantum of provincial autonomy that was mainly responsible for the break up of the country in 1971 resolved by 1973constitution, was made more lethal by dictators when they refused to transfer concurrent list to the provinces. 18th Amendment has not only passed the concurrent list to the provinces but has gone beyond. By renaming NWFP as Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province deference has been shown to the aspirations of the Pashtoons. It has also dealt effectively with the issues of governance and judiciary.

The Eighteenth Amendment is the practical demonstration of democracy in action and augurs well for its future. It has revived the long awaited party politics at the centre stage. No doubt there will be glitches, but the democratic process now has fair chances of success as compared to dictatorships. There is renewed commitment for inculcating a culture of institution building by conceding political institutions to flourish in accordance with theconstitution.

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The Eighteenth Amendment represents the will of the people. It also stipulates the supremacy of the parliament and defines powers and responsibilities of national institutions. It is a precursor to party politics in a parliamentary system. Therefore, the debate over the powers ofthe President or Prime Minister becomes irrelevant in party politics.

From the national perspective, the 18th Amendment unanimously agreed to by all the political parties represents a great tribute to the wisdom of Pakistani political forces. The unanimity shown in the adoption of constitutional amendments proves the point that irrespective of their ideological shades, Pakistani political forces are capable of not only providing good governance but can promote national cohesion—in a better and effective manner then the dictators.

Pakistan Peoples Party can rightly pride itself for many firsts in Pakistan’s history. Its founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave it a unanimous Constitution; its nuclear programme which enjoys all time national consensus, and; laid the foundations of mega projects in all the provinces to create provincial harmony. It was during Benazir Bhutto’s two governments when the country was steered towards social freedoms including a free media; empowerment of women and promotion of a culture of dialogue.

During Musharraf’s dictatorship, Bhutto initiated a dialogue of reconciliation with political rivals of the past. The Charter of Democracy signed by PPP and PML (N) in 2006 was a sequel to the united struggle against his dictatorship.

The politics of consensus initiated by President Asif Ali Zardari has faced many snags. But being the head of the largest political party in the country, Co-Chairman Zardari has succeeded in preserving the unity of the political forces. Even with PML (N), one can say with confidence that President Zardari has succeeded in preserving the unity of governance which is rooted in late Bhutto’s policy of national reconciliation.

Similarly, other political parties in the coalition have also acknowledged the PPP leadership’s resilience in promoting consensus. It also goes to the credit of thepolitical parties that they have evolved a modus vivendi to resolve their difference without involving the “empires”, which used to be the hallmark of country’s politics during the nineties.

The detractors of the PPP may argue about Bhutto Dynasty, but it goes without saying that it is the uniqueness of the Bhutto family which has no parallel in Pakistan’s political history. They gave their blood for the empowerment of the people. They stood their ground against dictatorships and also succeeded in convincing their political rivals, who were traditionally pro-establishment, to believe in the power of the people. If Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave the country a consensusconstitution , it was Benazir’s approach for broader national reconciliation which guided the party in the protracted dialogue for building consensus for the EighteenthAmendment amongst various political parties . The next step demands uninterrupted rule by the parties enjoying people’s confidence. This would be possible with patience and perseverance amongst different political forces.
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