Who actually wants to undo the 18th Amendment?
Of late a heated debate has begun not only in the national print and electronic media but also in some official quarters primarily to revisit the 18th Amendment. Similarly, social media is also full of statements supporting or opposing such a move. There has been strong resistance from the PPP and its Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had taken a public position that no matter what the cost such an attempt would never be allowed to succeed. He has vehemently expressed his serious concern that any attempt to undermine the provincial autonomy enshrined in the 18th Amendment would endanger the Federation.
However, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has maintained a conspicuous silence on the issue as yet. Some of its leaders had restricted themselves to saying “we will cross the bridge when it comes”. Political observers are of the view that moves are underway to seek the support of PML-N to undo the 18th Amendment for which the conditions had since been conveyed to the PTI government. It includes undoing Nawaz Sharif’s conviction and withdrawal of cases against each member of the Sharif’s tribe including Shehbaz Sharif, Hamza Sharif and Maryam Nawaz.
Lately, Federal Minister Asad Umar dared to say in a television talk show that there was no harm in revisiting the 18th Amendment to remove some flaws. The minister’s assertion has opened the floodgates. Asad Umar’s statement led his more than a dozen other colleagues to exercise their infinite wisdom to justify the idea of revisiting the 18th Amendment.
But the real question remains as to who was behind the idea of undoing the 18th Amendment? There is an impression in journalistic and intellectual circles that probably the Establishment hates this part of the Constitution. Some dared raised their fingers towards the top military elite. For a reference once it was talked about at a most powerful forum where it was observed that the 18th Amendment has devastated the country as well as the national politics and that nothing worst could happen to the Constitution. However, this was readily denied by the concerned quarters.
The fundamental issue remains the divide of resources and legislative powers between the Federation and its units. Some argue that the Amendment was passed in haste because the transfer of power to the provinces led to a battle of words as well as the war of words between Islamabad and provincial capitals.
A peep into the history would reveal that there was no dearth of rulers, including military dictators, who had played havoc with the Constitution on various occasions in our turbulent political history spreading over seven decades. Though, the process to introduce amendments started during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s premiership, who was the main architect of the 1973 Constitution, they were probably meant to improvise some provisions that required clarity.
Successive military dictators either abrogated or held it in abeyance and ended up making amendments to their suiting in an attempt to give legal cover to their illegal and unconstitutional actions. Gen Iskandar Mirza was the first to dare abrogate the 1956 Constitution. Similarly, the 1962 Constitution was abrogated in 1969 by Gen Yahya Khan. Gen Ziaul Haq toppled Zulfikar Ali Bhutto through a military coup and through the 8th Amendment that he resumed the power to dissolve the National and Provincial Assemblies. Like his predecessors, Gen Pervez Musharraf manipulated some provisions while giving constitutional cover to his actions like the imposition of Emergency in the country.
To cut the long story short, it was Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that initiated the 18th Amendment in an attempt, according to former Prime Minister Makhdoon Yousaf Raza Gilani, to restore the original spirit of the Constitution. The 18th Amendment was passed by the National Assembly on April 8, 2010, with a majority vote, 292 members representing 17 political parties voted in favour in a house of 342. The basic objective was stated to be making the President weaker and handing over all the powers to the elected Prime Minister. Dissolution of Assemblies and imposition of Emergency in any province was no longer the right of the President.
The 18th Amendment has affected various articles and provisions resulting in over a 100 changes and to do so, the PPP had to make relentless efforts to bring all political stakeholders on one page to support the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms which had earlier reviewed and discussed nearly a 1,000 proposals. But this is a fact that controversies started immediately after the passage of the 18th Amendment.
Even at the passage of the 18th Amendment, some highlighted the benefits of the provisions while some exposed in-built drawbacks. It was said that how the Federation could afford to lose the right of checks and balances upon the provinces. As a counter-argument, it was stated that powerful provinces would ensure an even stronger Centre. Some observed that making provinces autonomous does not mean that they are capable of managing their affairs that were before the passage of the Amendment handled by Islamabad.
The Establishment and the powers that be felt that by sharing power tools with the provinces, the State authority has been undermined mainly because most of the financial matters had become the subject of the provinces. But contrary to this argument, the PPP leadership is of the view that passage of the 18th Amendment has transformed the Constitution to be democratic and favourable to the parliamentary form of government. It also accused the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) of hatching a conspiracy to introduce the presidential form of government.
Bilawal Bhutto has not minced his words outrightly rejecting any change in the Constitution particularly the 18th Amendment and termed any such attempt a conspiracy to demolish democratic forces. He is of the view that such moves are being initiated by the Centre to deny the transfer of powers and distribution of resources to the provinces. His party holds a firm view that passage of the 18th Amendment should be seen as a manifestation of late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s declared policy that “democracy is the best revenge”.
Informed political observers confined to 24NewsHD.tv that soon after Eidul Fitr, rejuvenated efforts would be launched to bring about a consensus among the PTI and PML-N to introduce a bill in the National Assembly on the pretext of revisiting the 18th Amendment. One needs to wait to see how things would unfold after the end of the holy month of Ramazan.