Revisiting 'Charter of Democracy'

It is time to remind the PPP leadership about promises made by Benazir Bhutto regarding changes in the political system when the party assumed power single handedly or as a part of a coalition. Ms Bhutto in whose name Mr Zardari has taken over the office of the Head of State had signed with Mian Nawaz Sharif the Charter of Democracy in London on May 14, 2006. Subsequently the PPP leaders had hailed the document as a landmark development that would cleanse the Aegean Stables of politics. Now it is time for Mr Zardari to prove whether he is really willing to carry out the wishes of his slain leader or is merely using her name for political gains. To start with the document requires the restoration of the 1973 Constitution as it existed prior to the military coup on October 12, 1999 and the annulment of the 17th amendment subsequently introduced by Musharraf. The Charter thus restores the position of the PM as the central and most powerful figure in the system while it requires the shedding of the president's extensive powers, including the power to send the Parliament and the prime minister home. The president is to be no more than a titular Head of State rather than the lord and master of all he surveys. President Zardari who enjoys prestige among the PPP leaders on account of being the husband of late Benazir Bhutto would also be widely hailed in case he fulfils the undertakings given in the CoD as the first leader in the country's history willingly giving up powers to strengthen democracy. The CoD pinpoints the powers that need to be transferred to the prime minister and the Parliament. These include key appointments. It requires that three services chiefs and the CJCSC to be appointed by the prime minister rather than the president. Similarly the governors are also to be nominated by the prime minister. It envisages the abolishing of the National Security Council which was presided over by Musharraf in his capacity as president and was conceived of as a 'super cabinet'. It is to be replaced by a Defence Committee of the Cabinet presided over by the prime minister. The appointment of the judges of the superior courts too would have to be taken out of the ambit of the presidency and replaced by a procedure wherein the prime minister and Parliament are to play a key role. The president would no more appoint the CEC and members of the Election Commission which is visualised by the framers of the CoD as independent, autonomous and impartial. Instead nominations are to be made by the prime minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition and ratified by the Joint Parliamentary Committee, thus allotting a crucial role to the Parliament. Similarly Opposition Leaders at the centre and provinces would appoint the chairmen of the Public Accounts Committee at the central and provincial levels. Other important steps promised in the CoD include the removal of the ban on prime minister and chief ministers to run for the office for a third-term. With Benazir Bhutto dead, this would now help Mian Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif. Would the PPP leadership carry out its commitment or use the issue for bargaining? The CoD also requires the institution of an enquiry commission to probe the ill-advised Kargil affair. Whatever action the government might decide to undertake subsequently in the light of the report of the commission, the enquiry would help ensure that blunders of the sort do not take place in future. It remains to be seen if President Zardari is able to resist the lure of power. There is no shortage of sycophants around him who would advise him to remain a powerful President. Even Washington might prefer a powerful and amenable president to carry out the tasks assigned to Islamabad in the War On Terror. There are enough excuses that can be cooked up by Mr Zardari to reincarnate himself into another Musharraf. Dictators have in the past justified their powers by saying that the time is not yet ripe for shedding them. One absolute ruler after another has claimed he had a historic mission which he alone was fitted to perform and for this extraordinary powers were needed. Political tactics could be employed to go back on promises made in the CoD. Relations with the PML-N could be taken to a breaking point so that cooperation with it, which alone can ensure the two-third majority for constitutional amendment, becomes impossible. It is time for President Zardari who has acquired a reputation for going back on promises to retrieve his image. It remains to be seen if he goes for turning the polity into a genuine federal parliamentary system or opts for absolute power which has a tendency to corrupt absolutely. E-mail:

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