Is rolling back 18th Amendment need of the hour?
In a recent turn of events, there has been an ongoing debate on rolling back the 18th amendment. There is presence of a strengthened belief that the said amendment has caused financial instability and has resulted in an overall weak state of the country. The debate has augmented since the ruling political party, PTI has come into power.
The 18th amendment curbed the powers of a President, resulting into conversion of a semi-presidential system into a parliamentary one. It also enhanced provincial autonomy to avoid any political precariousness. In addition to this, the amendment granted 57% fiscal resources to the provincial government. It struck down the 17th amendment promulgated by General Musharraf, which undermined the powers of Parliament. It is indeed one of the most progressive measures to turn the country into a federation, in line with 1973 constitution.
The critics of 18th amendment are of the view that the administrative and financial autonomy granted to the provinces has resulted into an overall confederal structure. The possible ramification of a confederation is weakening of authority of the federal government. Skeptics also claim that transfer of fiscal resources to the provincial government has limited the share of the federal government. The federal government is responsible for defence funding and debt servicing which consumes major portion of the budget.
On the contrary, although there have been issues of coordination between centre and province, the provincial autonomy has strengthened our country as a federation. There is lack of friction between centre and provinces over distribution of resources. Pakistan has been a victim of centre and province tug of war during separation of East Pakistan. There was inequality between East and West Pakistan in terms of distribution of resources and political representation which led to the unfortunate fall of Dhaka in 1971.
As far as the resources are concerned, the federal government is left with an adequate amount of budget even after expenditures on defence and debt servicing to meet other expenses. The economy is in a crisis at the moment but 18th amendment is not the reason behind it.
Moreover, a unitary form of government has not proven very successful in our case. Military rules have proved one thing that strong men are not the solution to our financial and political problems. Rather, federalism brings more dynamism and reality to the system. 18th amendment has contributed to prevent the democracy from being derailed, no matter how flawed it is.
Opposition leaders are displeased with government’s motives to review the decade old constitutional amendment .Ahsan Iqbal, senior leader of PMLN remarked that the government should not open another Pandora box amidst the economic fallout due to COVID-19. He is of the view that such a measure undermines our national unity at this hour. Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto also expressed his dissent in an interview to BBC Urdu where he claimed that it is the first time the federal government and Prime minister are trying to detach themselves from the provinces. Sindh’s government has also been criticized by PTI on the strict measures to contain novel coronavirus. Aimal Wali Khan, senior leader of Awami National Party vehemently opposed the possibility of reviewing the amendment which has enhanced provincial autonomy. Despite the opposition, the ruling party seems adamant to review the constitutional amendment. Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, commented that it is necessary to reanalyze the amendment in order to make sure that whether it is implemented in its true spirit or not.
Amending or rolling back the amendment requires two-third majority in parliament, while the ruling PTI has scant majority in National assembly whereas it holds minority in Upper house.
Needless to say, a major political shift is inevitable during the process!