Pakistan is to unveil a package of sweeping constitutional reforms on Tuesday to distribute powers seized by military dictators across national and provincial government.
By Javed Siddiq in Islamabad
President Asif Zardari will lose prerogatives under the proposals, which are designed to guarantee the sovereignty of parliament and devolve power to provincial governments in a country plagued by regional insurgencies against the overbearing federal government.
Presidential allies said the proposals would restrict the scope for military chiefs to seize power by using a pliable presidents to oust the prime minister. The prime minister, as head of the executive backed by parliament, would be the most powerful figure in the government.
Members of Pakistan's National Assembly meeting in London in the last week have been recalled to Islamabad as President Zardari's supporters press ahead with plans to introduce the bill on Tuesday.
The Eighteenth Amendment Bill would overturn former military ruler General Musharraf's constitutional changes, which gave the president power to dismiss elected governments and banned two time prime ministers from serving a third term - a move specifically aimed at banning former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who was overthrown in the 1999 coup, from returning to power.
Two Pakistan governments led by the late Miss Bhutto were dismissed by a president acting with Army support.
"This will make Asif Zardari the president who gave away his powers. It will be the greatest contribution to democracy in this country since the 1973 constitution. It will reform his image and complete Benazir Bhutto's unfinished business," one of the president's closest confidents said last night.
The decision to grant extra powers to the provinces have proven most controversial. An eye-catching measure to rename the North West Frontier Province as 'Pakhtunkhwa' after its ethnic Pashtun majority has ran into opposition. The alternative name Afghania' has been proposed as a compromise.
Mr Sharif's supporters raised fears the measures could fuel ethnic nationalism and thereby weaken the country. "If we accede to the demands of the parties seeking maximum autonomy, then Pakistan will not remain a federation it would become a confederation," said Raja Zafar-ul-haq, an opposition leader.
The move also is aimed at addressing the grievances of Balochistan's insurgents and nationalists who complain the federal government is dominated by Punjab, the country's largest province.
While the move is expected to increase President Zardari's domestic support levels, its long-term success will be measured by the durability of Pakistan's return to democracy.
"Zardari will get some credit, but the past record shows whenever the prime minister has been powerful, we've [then] had martial law," said Najam Sethi, a leading commentator. "It's how the key players, the prime minister, president and army chief work together [that matters]."