Advisory group calls for restoring powers to Pakistan’s parliament

Stakeholders hold meetings across Pakistan to discuss bolstering the country’s constitution

A meeting of a policy advisory group on federalism in Punjab province has called for the restoration of powers to Pakistan’s parliament and more autonomy for Pakistan’s provinces.

The meeting was held on March 10, 2010 in Lahore by Pakistan’s Centre for Civic Education and the Forum of Federations. This meeting was one in a series held in each of Pakistan’s four provinces, and co-organized by the Forum of Federations.

The gathering was designed to bring together experts and stakeholders from different walks of life and to develop a set of recommendations and amendments to Pakistan’s constitution.

On April 8, about one month after the meeting, Pakistan’s National Assembly voted unanimously to amend the constitution along lines similar to those proposed at the meeting. The Senate has yet to vote on the amendments.

The Lahore meeting of policy advisers from Punjab attracted 31 participants, including politicians, civil society members and academics. The discussion revolved around two main points: imperatives for constitutional reforms and prioritizing possible amendments to the constitution.

There was near unanimous agreement that the powers of parliament under the constitution much of which were stripped away by former leader General Pervez Musharraf should be fully restored. There was also a general consensus to grant more autonomy to Pakistan’s provinces. The yet to be resolved question is how much autonomy the provinces require.

Participants from political parties were most interested in the division of powers between the presidency and the prime minister and the issue of provincial autonomy. Civil society members called for the protection of rights for marginalized sections of society, especially women and religious minorities. The representatives of religious minorities spoke forcefully for the abolition of constitutional clauses such as the one that prohibits non-Muslims from serving as president or prime minister. Some participants said that Pakistan should adopt an entirely new constitution.

Participants described the meeting as a fruitful experience which not only presented a variety of perspectives on constitutional affairs but also provided a platform for dialogue. They said they hope that the discussions and various suggestions would be useful to the constitutional reforms committee in drafting its proposals.

Similar such meetings were held in other parts of Pakistan:

  • On Feb. 27, 2010, a meeting of the Sindh Policy Advisory Group on Federalism was held in Karachi. The event attracted 29 participants from political parties, civil society and universities.
  • On March 5, 2010 a meeting of the Baluchistan Policy Advisory Group on Federalism was held in Quetta, the capital of the province of Baluchistan, which was attended by 41 participants, and
  • On March 16, 2010, a get-together was held in Peshawar for participants living in the Northwest Frontier Province which may soon be renamed Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa which drew 26 participants.