Vol. 4 Num 213 Wed. December 31, 2003  
Front Page

Musharraf gains powers with upper house nod

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf won vast powers, including the authority to dismiss the elected government, yesterday as the Senate approved a set of sweeping constitutional amendments despite opposition protests.

The national assembly passed the constitutional amendment bill on Monday by a two-thirds majority.

The approval of the upper house of Pakistan's parliament means Musharraf will stay in power until late 2007, subject to a formal vote of confidence on Thursday, and keep the powerful post of military chief for one more year, until the end of 2004.

Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in October 1999, before handing over some powers to a prime minister after elections in October 2002.

The bill was approved in the Senate by 72 of the 100 house members, with opponents staging a walkout, government officials said.

The ruling coalition won the votes of a hardline Islamic alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), to get the required two-thirds majority.

The MMA, which vehemently opposes Musharraf's decision to side with the United States in the war on terror, has said it supported the amendments to end a political deadlock that had paralysed both houses of parliament since last year's election.

The main opposition, Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), said Islamic parties had once again proved themselves to be allies of the military, as they have often been in the past.

"It is a black day in Pakistan's history because parliament has circumvented its own powers," Senator Raza Rabbani, a senior ARD leader, told Reuters.

"The parliament, prime minister and the cabinet have surrendered their powers to a single man," he said.

The government would like the matter resolved ahead of a key regional summit to be held in Islamabad starting on Sunday. The summit will bring together the leaders of seven South Asian nations, including India. It is seen as an historic opportunity for Pakistan and India to cement recent peace overtures.