President ready to give up powers
* Asks parliament to form committee to revisit 17th Amendment, Article 58(2b)
* Wants government to rename NWFP as Pakhtunkhwa
* Calls for federation to be strengthened
* Says government will replace NAB with more transparent accountability system
By Sajjad Malik and Muhammad Bilal
ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari announced in his debut address to a joint session of parliament on Saturday that he would surrender his power to dissolve the assembly.
He asked the parliament to form a cross-party committee to ‘revisit’ the controversial 17th Amendment introduced by his predecessor General (r) Pervez Musharraf, calling the laws ‘distortions’ in the constitution.
“As the democratically elected president of Pakistan, I call upon the parliament to form an all-parties committee to revisit the 17th Amendment and Article 58(2b). Never before in the history of this country has [a] president stood here [and] given away his powers,” Zardari said as parliamentarians thumped their desks in support.
“The days of constitutional deviations are over,” he said, adding that the parliament was supreme.
The president said his decision to address the House less than two weeks after his election demonstrated the respect he had for the institution of parliament.
“As head of the state, I wish to make it very clear that the president and the government must always seek guidance from the parliament in carrying out our duties. We are committed to upholding the sanctity of the constitution, supremacy of the parliament and rule of law.”
Federation: Zardari said the 1973 Constitution was a consensus document that could fashion a social contract “leading towards new politics based on reconciliation”. “Successive blows have weakened the federation and it needs to be strengthened,” he said.
He mentioned injustices done to Balochistan and said an apology to the province was long overdue.
The release of a former Balochistan chief minister and the resolution of a longstanding monetary dispute between the federation and the province were ‘positive steps’, he added. Pakhtunkhwa: The president also said the government should change the name of the North West Frontier Province to Pukhtunkhwa in line with the longstanding demand of the people of the province. Zardari said his decisions as president would not be affected by ‘bitter memories’. “It is time for us to move on. God has given a unique opportunity and we must not waste it,” he said.
“My dream is to free this great country from the shackles of poverty, hunger, terrorism and disunity,” Zardari told the parliament, and said his government would “move quickly to heal the wounds of the past and restore the trust in the federation”. The president said he believed in the independence of judiciary and all matters concerning the judiciary would be resolved in accordance with the constitution.
NAB: Zardari said the government had decided to repeal the National Accountability Bureau Ordinance and replace it with an enhanced and transparent accountability system that is in line with the mainstream judicial system.
Accountability had been grossly misused as an instrument of ‘political witch-hunting’, he said.
He said an opposition leader had been made the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman from the first time, in accordance with the Charter of Democracy. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif also attended the session. He had been invited by the president.
The session began 25 minutes behind schedule and was prorogued after the 30-minute speech.