ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A key opposition group vowed Sunday to try to undo amendments President Pervez Musharraf made to the constitution before lifting emergency rule, changes criticized by Pakistan’s press as a blow to Parliament’s sovereignty.
Raja Zafarul Haq, chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, also said the six-week state of emergency “will leave a bitter legacy” long after Musharraf leaves. Musharraf said Saturday he imposed the emergency Nov. 3 to save the country from destabilization and fight Islamic militancy.
But Haq said the close U.S. ally in the war against terrorism used the emergency for “personal reasons” to stack the Supreme Court with “hand-picked” judges while it pondered the legality of his new term and to amend the constitution.
Haq repeated claims that Jan. 8 elections for a new Parliament will be “rigged” but said his party will use the new legislature to remove Musharraf’s amendments to the constitution, despite the president’s efforts to put the changes beyond challenge.
Several leading newspapers on Sunday hailed Musharraf’s order a day earlier that lifted the emergency but criticized him for amending the constitution. “A blow has been delivered to the very concept of parliamentary sovereignty because the amendments made to the constitution … by the fiat of one man do not need parliament’s approval,” the daily Dawn said in an editorial.
Musharraf on Friday removed a condition from the constitution stating that civil servants, including army officers, had to wait two years after their retirement before running for elected office, Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum said.
Musharraf stepped down as army chief only last month. Removing the provision in question eliminated one of the grounds on which his October re-election, by a Parliament stacked with his supporters, had been challenged.
Qayyum said other changes sealed the retirement of purged Supreme Court judges. Their replacements swiftly approved Musharraf’s re-election by a Parliament stacked with his supporters.
During the emergency, Mushrraf kept a tight lid on dissent, muzzling press freedom, firing independent-minded judges and detaining thousands of opposition lawyers and political activists.
Musharraf said in a nationally televised speech Saturday the emergency helped slow the spread of Islamic militancy but the country still faces a “grave situation” with the approach of the elections that will determine who will form the next government. He said unnamed conspirators had hatched a plot with members of the judiciary to derail the country’s transition to democracy, and he warned political parties to avoid stirring up trouble.
“Against my will, as a last resort, I had to impose the emergency in order to save Pakistan,” Musharraf said. “I cannot tell how much pain the nation and I suffered due to this conspiracy.”
The response was muted from the U.S., which has walked a fine line between criticizing the democratic backsliding by Musharraf and supporting a key ally against Islamic militancy.
“It’s a good step for the Pakistani people,” said Jeanie Mamo, a spokeswoman for President George W. Bush.
Musharraf has previously said he imposed the state of emergency to halt a conspiracy by top judges to end his eight-year rule, and to ward off political chaos that would hobble Pakistan’s efforts against Islamic extremism. He has also insisted the Supreme Court, which had been poised to rule on the legality of his October re-election, was acting beyond the constitution.
Musharraf said Saturday his personal interest was not involved in imposing emergency rule and it had been critical to maintaining stability. He vowed the Jan. 8 balloting “will be absolutely fair and transparent.”
Musharraf’s leading opponents, former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, have warned of mass protests if they think the vote has been rigged.
Bhutto dismissed Musharraf’s claim that opposition parties are raising complaints about cheating as an excuse in case they fare poorly in the elections. She said the election commission and many local officials involved in the balloting have partisan ties to the ruling party that supports Musharraf and are working to foster a hung Parliament that would help the current coalition remain in power. “They have planted chosen presiding officers, police officials and persons from the administrative machinery in marked constituencies, and intelligence agencies are constantly engaged in trying to steal the people’s mandate,” Bhutto told reporters during a campaign stop in Quetta.