Pakistan’s parliament is expected to pass constitutional changes in coming weeks that would vastly curtail the powers of President Asif Ali Zardari, effectively sidelining the unpopular leader of the nation’s weak civilian government.
Zardari inherited far-reaching powers, including the ability to dissolve parliament’s lower house and appoint army chief, put in place under former military ruler Pervez Musharraf. The likely changes would shift those powers to the prime minister, though many analysts say true authority will remain with the security establishment.
Strengthening Pakistan’s government is a priority of the Obama administration, which views Pakistan as vital to its success in Afghanistan. The changes could stabilise Pakistan’s political landscape by appeasing some of Zardari’s many critics.
Zardari has faced demands to give up the powers since he took office last year, and he reluctantly pledged to do so. A panel on the constitutional changes is to present them and other amendments this week to the parliament, which is expected to pass them by early April.
The changes would make Zardari’s position far more ceremonial, and they could embolden Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani or power-seekers within the military. But analysts said in practical terms, the shift would be mostly symbolic — Zardari is already weak and will remain the head of the ruling party.
Analysts noted that Pakistan’s many military coups have all taken place when the president does not control the elected government, but said there is little possibility of one at this stage.
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