December 13, 2007

A Little Adjustment To The Constitution, And Voila!

Pervez Musharraf will lift the emergency decree he imposed six weeks ago, but only after amending Pakistan's constitution to keep his actions during the PCO from judicial challenge. It serves as a tacit admission of his violation of the constitution during his reign as military dictator and especially in his emergency rule:

Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum told The Associated Press that the president, who has acknowledged that he breached the constitution, will amend the charter to protect his decisions from legal challenges.

Qayyum said government legal experts were finalizing the changes and that they would be announced before Musharraf lifts the emergency on Saturday, but provided no details.

"The president will lift the emergency to restore the constitution and the fundamental rights," he said.

Pakistanis have demanded a restoration of the constitution as a prerequisite to engaging in the electoral process. The secretive nature of the changes puts into question what a restoration will actually do for Pakistan. Constitutions exist to limit government and hold the powerful accountable for their actions. If Musharraf rewrites it to protect his power instead, its restoration may not do much for Pakistan -- and the dictatorial method used in imposing changes to it undermines its credibility.

The lifting of the emergency order will apparently not dent Musharraf's intention to rule with a heavy hand during the elections, either. On Tuesday, the media regulatory board sent letters to satellite television broadcasters warning them that coverage of political issues could result in license suspension and revocation. The Musharraf government warned of "baseless propaganda" in coverage of political rallies and live call-in talk shows, and it threatened jail time and huge fines.

The timing of this order seems transparently aimed at kneecapping Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. Their criticisms of the Musharraf government could provoke Musharraf to follow up on his threats and shut down the media outlets broadcasting their speeches. It hardly provides an atmosphere for political freedom and fair elections. It also provides a back-door method of handicapping the opposition without throwing their leaders and followers in prison, as Musharraf did early in his emergency rule. This is more subtle, and less likely to provoke Musharraf's American allies.

Will Pakistan actually hold the elections? If the constitutional changes imposed by Musharraf prove too onerous, Sharif and Bhutto may rethink the boycott. If Musharraf continues to threaten the media for showing their speeches, they may have no choice.


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