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Pakistan's President Zardari closer to losing powers

Pakistan's President Zardari could soon cede several of his powers to the prime minister, after a parliamentary committee approved a long-negotiated draft bill to that effect late Wednesday. It is expected to pass.

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A Pakistani parliamentary committee on Wednesday approved a set of constitutional amendments that will, among other things, shift the balance of power from unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari to the prime minister.

Although the reforms, which are expected to pass, will curb Mr. Zardari’s powers, they may also elicit a rare flash of support for the embattled leader.

“It’s a massive political boost to [Zardari],” says Cyril Almeida, a political columnist for Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English-language daily. “It’s not the standard practice in Pakistan to give away powers. It’s more the reverse, where people consolidate or accumulate powers.”

Mr. Almeida points out, however, that Mr. Zardari will retain leverage over Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani in his capacity as co-chair of their ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

“The President is honoring our party’s commitment to restore the 1973 constitution and undo the usurpation of the authority of the people’s house by military dictators,” says Farahnaz Ispahani, Mr. Zardari’s spokeswoman, referring to former Pakistani ruler Gen. Zia ul-Haq.

These powers include the authority to dissolve parliament, which was used four times during the 1990s to dismiss elected governments, and the power to appoint the commander of the armed forces.

The amendment bill will also achieve longstanding demands for greater provincial autonomy, and rename the North West Frontier Province as “Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa,” in recognition of the ethnic Pashtuns (or Pakhtoons) who make up the majority of the population there. The British had given the name “NWFP” in 1901, and news of the change sparked massive celebrations in the provincial capital of Peshawar.


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