Pakistani president to lose powers to the premier

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The Independent Online

The Pakistani government yesterday introduced a constitutional bill in parliament to transfer President Asif Ali Zardari's sweeping powers to the prime minister, possibly ending months of political wrangling. The "18th Amendment Bill" is expected to be passed by parliament, effectively turning Mr Zardari into a ceremonial head of state.

The development may help calm political opposition to Mr Zardari, pictured, but the government faces pressure from an assertive Supreme Court to reopen corruption cases against him after it threw out a controversial amnesty law in December. "There's a bit of muscle-flexing all around," said Samina Ahmed, South Asia director for the International Crisis Group. "It will settle down."

Yesterday, Anwar Mansoor Khan, the Attorney General, resigned, a day after he told the Supreme Court that the law ministry was not giving him documents relating to corruption cases against thousands of people, including Mr Zardari. "It had become impossible to work in such a situation," he said.

Under the proposed amendments, the president will lose key powers to the prime minister, including the authority to dissolve the national assembly and appoint powerful military chiefs and the election commissioner. The bill shifts Mr Zardari's powers to appoint judges to a commission comprised of senior judges and government figures.

Mr Zardari would still wield considerable influence as head of the Pakistan People's Party, the country's largest grouping.