Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan
The Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Pakistan (Urdu: آئین پاکستان میں اٹھارہویں ترمیم) was passed by the National Assembly of Pakistan on April 8, 2010, removing the power of the President of Pakistan to dissolve the Parliament unilaterally, turning Pakistan from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary republic, and renaming North-West Frontier Province to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The package is expected to counter the sweeping powers amassed by the Presidency under former Presidents General Pervez Musharraf and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and to ease political instability in Pakistan. The bill reverses many infringements on the Constitution of Pakistan over several decades by its military rulers. The amendment bill was passed by the Senate of Pakistan on April 15, 2010 and it became an act of parliament when President Asif Ali Zardari put his signature on the bill on April 19, 2010. It was the first time in Pakistan's history that a president relinquished a significant part of his powers willingly and transferred them to parliament and the office of the prime minister. However, this was not surprising because Zardari remained the chairman of the ruling party, which still made him the strongest person in the parliamentary system.
The power of the President to dissolve the Parliament was enacted by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan during the presidency of Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, before it was removed by then-Prime minister Nawaz Sharif during his second term by the Thirteenth Amendment. It was finally restored during the presidency of Gen. Pervez Musharraf by the Seventeenth Amendment. This bill is the first bill since 1973 to decrease the powers of the President.
Back then, this amounted to the only democratically elected parliament to fully complete its tenure in the history of Pakistan from 2003–2008, albeit under Musharraf, who was a dictator in Pakistan. The second complete parliamentary term was completed by the PPP led government from 2008-2013 which had in fact passed the 18th Amendment. However, this 2008-2013 term is often touted to be the first complete democratic change of power without a military president or a coup de etat in Pakistan.
Changes to the Constitution
Some new features were also introduced into the constitution, including the following:
- The name of the former president of Pakistan, Gen Zia, has been removed from the text of Constitution
- North-West Frontier Province has been renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
- The 17th Amendment and Legal Framework Order as introduced by Musharraf has been repealed
- The ban on third time prime ministership and chief ministership has been lifted
- Holding constitution in abeyance is tantamount to high treason
- The council of Common Interest (CCI) has been reconstituted with the prime minister as its chairperson and the body should meet at least once in 90 days
- A judicial commission will recommend the appointment procedure of superior judges and the final names of judges will be decided by parliamentary commission
- A Chief Election Commissioner will be appointed through consensus between treasury and opposition
- Establishment of Islamabad high court and benches of high courts in Mingora and Turbat
- Recognition of the children's right to education and insertion of a new section under Article 25A to provide constitutional guarantee that state will provide free and compulsory education to all girls and boys up to age 16.
292 of the 342 members of the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, voted in favour of the amendment. The amendment turns the President into a ceremonial head of state and transfers power to the Prime Minister, and removes the limit on a Prime Minister serving more than two terms, opening the way for Nawaz Sharif to run again. The North-West Frontier Province is renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in accordance with the wishes of its Pashtun-majority population. Among other changes, courts will no longer be able to endorse suspensions of the constitution, a judicial commission will appoint judges, and the president will no longer be able to appoint the head of the Election Commission. The bill also enhances provincial autonomy. The President will no longer be able to declare emergency rule in any province unilaterally.
An editorial published in Dawn welcomed the amendment and urged parliament to go further and undo the destructive legacy of General Zia's rule and re-examine the Hudood Ordinance and Blasphemy law in Pakistan. Ahmed Kurd, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, said "We fully support the 18th Amendment. It is tantamount to the overhauling of the constitution, which had been subverted by military dictators since its inception. In the past, parliaments have just been 'rubber stamps', whereas the present parliament seemed to be well aware of its obligations, and therefore, was 'throwing out' the 'unconstitutional' amendments."
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