ISLAMABAD – Even as Asif Ali Zardari was sworn in as the 14th President of Pakistan on Tuesday, word emerged that he would retain the post’s discretionary powers of appointing the chiefs of the armed forces.
“We have no doubt that the new president wants to keep in his hand the exclusive authority to appoint the three chiefs of the armed forces, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the Chief Election Commissioner, the attorney general of Pakistan and the Auditor General of Pakistan,” a senior official told Saudi Gazette.
The official added, however, that Zardari, the widower of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, would shed the authority to dissolve the National Assembly and dismiss the government.
Leaders of the Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) are now talking about striking a balance between the powers of the president and the prime minister instead of reverting back to the position of the two office holders over the past decade and as provided in the original 1973 Constitution, according to which the head of the state is just a titular figure.
The source said tthe second largest party in the National Assembly, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif would support scrapping the widely condemned Article 58(2)(b) that gives the president the power to dismiss government and dissolve the Lower House of Parliament. Without the PML-N’s backing, Zardari cannot garner the mandatory two-thirds majority support separately in the Senate and the National Assembly to amend the Constitution.
A PML-N leader said his party would not go for a patchwork change in the Constitution and wanted full reversion to the original 1973 document. The leader argued that Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party would lose nothing by agreeing to abolish 58(2)(b) since it already presides over the federal government. An official source said that the Constitution containing former President Pervez Musharraf’s 17th amendment and a host of other laws enacted by him would remain unchanged for quite some time because the coalition does not have the required two-thirds majority to make a change.