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18th Amendment: celebrations and the aftermath

Monday, April 12, 2010
By By Tahir Hasan Khan

ÒJamhooriat, Hakmiyat and MasawatÓ (Democracy, Power and Equality), the three slogans in the new logo of the National Assembly, is a clear message from the elected representatives of the 170 million people that there is no room for an undemocratic approach.

Speaker National Assembly, Dr Fehmeeda Mirza designed and selected the new logo and slogans. I am thankful to her for sharing her idea with me in her chamber in the backdrop of the important debate in the National Assembly on the 18th constitutional amendment.

A former law minister, Iqbal Haider, who served in the late Benazir Bhutto government, was also present on this occasion and suggested a change in the slogan. He advised that “Hakmiyat” be replaced with “Salamty” (security). Mirza solicited my opinion on this, but I disagreed with Haider because the purpose of democracy is to serve the people who voted for it, and without power no democracy can achieve its purpose. On the other hand, equality is a must in democracy and I supported the proposed idea of the National Assembly Speaker. After this, she finalised the slogans and the next day presented the new logo to Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Senator Raza Rabbani at a function.

Dr Fehmeeda Mirza was elected twice as the member of the National Assembly from the remote district of Badin on a Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) ticket. She has also managed to put up a display of historic pictures of the founder of the PPP, the late Zulfikar Ali (ZA) Bhutto, and parliamentarians of the assembly which passed the 1973 constitution. She was proud of her success and narrated to me how she recovered these historic pictures from the junkyard of the assembly and displayed them on the wall of the National Assembly in order to make them a part of the democratic history of the country.

More then two dozen pictures in which Z.A. Bhutto, Mufti Mehmood, Wali Khan, Prof Ghafoor Ahmed, Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, Hafeez Pirzada, Maulana Kausar Niazi and others are seen signing the document that would become the 1973 Constitution.

She also has plans to display pictures of the present parliament that managed to restor the 1973 Constitution through the 18th Amendment. She wished to celebrate the revival of the Constitution, for which she had many proposals.

As Speaker National Assembly she had constituted a 26-member committee for the reforms in constitution on the directives of President Asif Ali Zardari. She was thankful to all the parties for their cooperation in the important task for which both the National Assembly and Senate had authorised her through a unanimous resolution.

The committee completed this task after 77 meetings in which the committee members spent 385 hours and discussed 982 proposed recommendations and proposals. Finally, the committee proposed amendments in 102 Articles, after which the National Assembly passed the document. Now the Senate will discuss this bill this week from where it will be sent to the President to sign. After completion of this process, Yosuf Raza Gilani will become the most powerful Prime Minister the country has seen and a complete parliamentary democratic system will be restored. Also, all provinces will get more autonomy and responsibilities and the concurrent list will be abolished, which was the wish of nationalists and mainstream democratic forces alike.

However, a tremendous amount of work lies ahead. More than two dozens ministries will transfer to the provinces from the federal government in the wake of the abolition of the concurrent list, but neither the federal government nor the provincial governments are ready for this. Sindh, Punjab, Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan do not have the administrative structure to run more departments.

The performance of the provincial governments in the fields of education, health and law and order is very poor and they need more than a couple of years to become capable of exercising complete autonomy. Without restructuring in the provincial set up, more autonomy will be a disaster and will result in disappointment and more problems. It is the responsibility of the provincial assemblies to discuss this situation. The federal government should also provide expertise to the provinces for the utilisation of the budget and for running of more departments.

The renaming of NWFP as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is also a major step, and can lead to a new debate in the country. Political observers are foreseeing that the protest by the Hazara community against the new name of NWFP can encourage others, such as the Saraiki community as well as Pashtuns living in Balochistan and exacerbate the urban rural divide in Sindh. This will be a difficult situation for the provincial governments and political forces.


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