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Pakistan assembly approves bill to curb presidential powers

[JURIST] Pakistan's National Assembly [official website] on Thursday unanimously passed a constitutional amendment [text, PDF] that would curtail the powers of the president. The 18th Amendment Bill would reverse the expansion of presidential powers under former military leader Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile, JURIST news archive] by transferring presidential powers to the office of the prime minister [official website], effectively reserving the presidency as a figurehead. Among other changes, the president would no longer have the power to dissolve parliament, dismiss the prime minister, or appoint the chief of the armed forces. The bill must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate and be signed by President Asif Ali Zardari [official website] before becoming law.

The introduction of the bill comes amid controversy over reopening corruption investigations against Zardari. Last week, Pakistan's Attorney General Anwar Mansoor announced his resignation over controversy surrounding a Supreme Court order to investigate corruption allegations [JURIST reports] against Zardari. Earlier that week, Swiss authorities denied a request [JURIST report] from Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau [official website], refusing to reopen a corruption investigation against Zardari. Aides to Zardari believe that presidential immunity protects him from prosecution, even after the Supreme Court overturned an amnesty law [JURIST report] implemented by Musharraf. The amnesty was signed [JURIST report] by Musharraf as part of a power-sharing accord allowing former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto [BBC profile] to return to the country despite corruption charges [JURIST report] she had faced.

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