MQM tables bill on autonomy for Pakistan’s provinces

January 28th, 2009 - 12:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Jan 28 (IANS) The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which has just been inducted into Pakistan’s ruling coalition, has tabled a bill on greater autonomy for the country’s provinces but it is unclear whether the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that leads the ruling alliance would support the measure when it comes up for voting.The MQM tabled the bill Tuesday, a day after two of its 25 members in the National Assembly were sworn in as federal ministers. With the party coming on board, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s 10-month-old government has regained its simple majority in the 342-member lower house that it had lost when the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) withdrew from the coalition in August 2008.

“The MQM had brought a similar private bill in the previous National Assembly when it was a partner in the ruling coalition of then-president Pervez Musharraf’s loyalists, but was persuaded by coalition leader Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid to defer the move with the promise of a possible accommodation in an official bill that never came,” Dawn noted Wednesday.

The new bill, sponsored by nine MQM members, was warmly received, with a loud shout of “no objection” from Law and Justice Minister Farooq H. Naek for forwarding it to a house standing committee.

“There was no immediate indication from the PPP whether it would support the new bill in the standing committee as well and when it finally comes to the house for consideration or will seek to incorporate parts of the draft in its own promised constitutional package,” Dawn noted.

A constitution amendment bill needs to be passed by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly and the 100-member Senate.

The 60-clause bill seeks “complete autonomy for the country’s four provinces” but does not touch on the autocratic presidential powers that Musharraf had assumed and which were legitimised by the controversial 17th amendment to the constitution.

The PPP and the PML-N, in the run-up to the February 2008 general elections, had promised to repeal the amendment but the PPP has since developed cold feet. This is because of President Asif Ali Zardari’s reported desire to transfer the powers of the presidency to the prime minister’s office and then occupy that post.

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