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Wednesday, 21 August, 2002, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
Musharraf tightens grip on power
President Musharraf
Musharraf says he is strengthening democracy
Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf has set out sweeping constitutional changes which significantly strengthen his position.


The president will have power to dismiss the national assembly at his discretion

General Musharraf
The president said he had restored his right to dismiss an elected parliament - a power withdrawn by the government of the last prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

He also confirmed, at a news conference in Islamabad, that he would remain in office for another five years following a controversial referendum in April.

The changes, which come after weeks of debate, are part of a package of constitutional amendments designed to accompany the full restoration of democracy scheduled for October.


Musharraf has grabbed all the power and the next prime minister will be helpless

Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy
President Musharraf said he had been given the power to change the constitution by the Supreme Court in a ruling on the legality of his 1999 coup.

"This [amendments] order comes into being with immediate effect," he said in remarks carried by state television.

Normally, any changes to the constitution have to be passed by a majority in parliament.

Pakistan's main opposition alliance, which includes the parties of Mr Sharif and another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, said parliament alone had the right to amend the constitution.

"We expect the elected parliamentarians of all political parties not to approve the constitutional amendments," its leader, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, told a news conference in Lahore.

"Musharraf has grabbed all the power and the next prime minister will be helpless."

Majority 'against'

Among his new powers, President Musharraf will now be able to choose the heads of Pakistan's army and navy.

Sharif supporters
The opposition is up in arms
And he confirmed that he will set up a National Security Council, including members of the military, to monitor future governments - a plan which deeply worries the opposition.

The National Security Council will be headed by the president, but will also include an opposition leader.

General Musharraf believes the council is necessary to provide checks and balances for a democratic process which he says has failed in the past.

"The majority of people spoke against it. Some also spoke in its favour," General Musharraf said, wearing military uniform.

"But honestly, I think this [council] is very important and this will be done."

He said it would serve as a forum for consultation on matters such as the sovereignty, integrity and security of the state.

Fears

Opposition parties and lawyers have sharply criticised the changes, describing them as deeply undemocratic.

National Security Council
President
Prime minister
Leader of opposition
Senate chairman
National Assembly speaker
Four state chief ministers
Three armed forces chiefs
Chairman of joint chiefs of staff
They want General Musharraf to make way for a neutral caretaker government which would oversee 10 October general elections - the first national poll since the bloodless coup which toppled Mr Sharif in 1999.

The president, who promised to restore civilian rule after taking power, held a nationwide referendum in April to extend his stay in office.

He told Wednesday's news conference that he had now amended the constitution to this effect.

The opposition, however, says the vote was massively rigged in his favour.

And they accuse the president of manipulating October's election by passing laws preventing Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto from returning to power.

The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 55-year history.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Susannah Price
"The amendments give President Musharraf five more years in power"
The BBC's Zaffar Abbas
"The opposition parties have said he has no right"
Editor of the Friday Times in Lahore Najam Sethi
"This is a supremely confident, possibly arrogant General Musharraf"
Musharraf's Pakistan

Democracy challenge

Militant threat

Background

TALKING POINT

FROM THE ARCHIVES

BBC WORLD SERVICE
See also:

21 Aug 02 | South Asia
20 Aug 02 | South Asia
05 Aug 02 | South Asia
12 Jul 02 | South Asia
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