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Pakistan lawmakers weigh bill to curb presidential powers

[JURIST] Pakistani lawmakers were weighing a constitutional bill Friday that would greatly limit the powers of President Asif Ali Zardari [official website], reversing the expansion of presidential powers under former military leader Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile, JURIST news archive]. If passed by both houses of parliament, the 18th Amendment Bill would transfer presidential powers to the office of the prime minister [official website], effectively reserving the presidency as a figurehead. Among other changes, the president will no longer have the power [ANI Report] to dissolve parliament, dismiss the prime minister, or appoint the chief of the armed forces. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile], who would be eligible for a third term under the legislation, stressed that the bill would strengthen Pakistani institutions [Pak Tribune report]. Zardari expressed hope that the bill would be passed as soon as possible [press release].

The introduction of the bill comes amid controversy over reopening corruption investigations against Zardari. Earlier this week, Swiss authorities denied a request [JURIST report] from Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau [official website], refusing to reopen a corruption investigation against Zardari. The request by the NAB came one day after Pakistan's Supreme Court [official website] ordered the bureau to reopen all corruption investigations [JURIST report] within 24 hours. 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 Supreme Court's order is likely to increase tensions between the president and the judiciary, which have recently clashed over court appointments [JURIST report].

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