Pakistan's Senate Passes Historic 18th Amendment, Sends Democratization Bill to President

Pakistan's National Assembly

Following the National Assembly’s passage of the 18th Amendment package of constitutional reforms, Pakistan’s upper house Senate approved the measure this morning, sending it to President Zardari for ratification. This historic event is culmination of unprecedented cooperation and consensus between Pakistan’s political parties.

CNN reports that,

In what political pundits are hailing as a historic moment for the troubled nation, Pakistan is one step closer to restoring the balance of power envisioned by its founders.

Pakistan’s National Assembly voted unanimously Thursday to pass the 18th Amendment, a sweeping measure that includes stripping President Asif Ali Zardari of his ability to dissolve parliament. Zardari favors the measure.

English-language daily Dawn reported today that Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, noted the historic nature of the reforms on the floor of the Senate today.

Gilani said that he believed this was the first time in the country’s history that the president, the prime minister, both houses of the parliament and even the opposition, were on the same page.

Gilani added that on this occasion, the army was also supporting the current democratic regime. Speaking to the upper house of the parliament, he said that the whole nation is proud of the Senate for approving the 18th Amendment.

The bill, a priority of President Asif Ali Zardari, will repeal several anti-democratic changes to the structure of Pakistan’s government made under the rule of military dictators in the 1980s and 1990s. Many have commented on the fact that, in supporting the measure, President Zardari has voluntarily shifted some powers away from his own office.

Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari has done something that most politicians in any country don’t usually do: give up powers, voluntarily. The extraordinary measure has come about with months of political wrangling, but now looks like more of a reality.

This was also noted by Mohsin Kamal Awan in his recent column for The Huffington Post:

This may be the first time in recorded history that a national leader willingly sacrificed his own political power for the sake of restoring constitutional, democratic rule of law.

Unfortunately, some American media outlets continues to report on the event in a misleading manner, echoing talking points from anti-democratic forces in the country.

Most recently, today’s Washington Post includes an article that begins,

Pakistan’s upper house Senate passed on Thursday constitutional amendments stripping unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari of his main powers and handing them to the prime minister and parliament.

The reporter even goes so far as to say that, “Zardari has backed the reforms though some of his opponents doubted he would let them pass.” This despite the fact that the President has been a vocal supporter of the measure, regularly working Pakistan’s political back-channels to ensure it’s passage.

Pakistani English-language daily The Express Tribune reported, quite to the contrary of The Washington Post’s report, that

The Senate resounded with desk thumping in approval of the 18th Amendment Bill being passed by the upper house, clearing the way for its implementation. Senate members raised slogans celebrating the landmark revival of the 1973 Constitution.

Members of the Parliament praised the president for the passage of the 18th Amendment.

Pakistani journalist Cyril Almeida, speaking to CNN, called the bill’s passage “a great advertisement for democracy in Pakistan.” Indeed, Pakistan’s democratic government – and its President, Asif Ali Zardari, especially – has shown that it is not only willing, but capable of carrying out the necessary steps to ensure a free and democratic society, representative of the Pakistani people at large.

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