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Musharraf plan to bolster his power

The new proposals would allow Musharraf to sack the prime minister  

Staff and wires

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf has proposed sweeping changes to his nation's constitution that would markedly increase his powers following elections in October this year.

Chief among the proposals is the granting of presidential power to sack the elected prime minister and cabinet. He would also be able to personally appoint the replacements for the sacked representatives.

Musharraf, a military leader who overthrew the elected government of Pakistan three years ago, has invited public comment on the proposed changes.

In April, the president held a contentious referendum that secured his position for five years after the upcoming poll.

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Musharraf -- who won the referendum handsomely -- argues the new powers would ensure a "unity of command" and a more sustainable democracy for the Muslim nation.

The military leader is battling opposition from within Pakistan for his support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Pakistan's military government discussed the proposals Wednesday and decided to make them public and invite discussion on the matters.

"The objective of the proposals ... is to prevent excessive concentration of authority, create a domain of state responsibility ... provide checks against precipitate or autocratic use of authority," a government document said.

Addressing a press conference Wednesday, Secretary for Information and Media Development Syed Anwer Mehmood said that the proposed constitutional amendments were being publicized to get feedback from all segments of the society.

"After one month, in the light of the feedback received, the Federal Cabinet and National Security Council will consider the feedback to give the final shape to these amendments," the Associated Press of Pakistan reports Mehmood as saying.

The government, he said, would like a healthy debate to be conducted on the proposed amendments and all views and comments would be given due consideration.

After a debate of one month, the package of proposed amendments will be reviewed by the National Security Council and the Cabinet in light of the feedback from the public to arrive at a final decision.

Before firing the prime minister, the constitutional amendments would require the president to consult a National Security Council, a military-civilian body which the president would head, The Associated Press reports.

Opposition likely

The draft says the president could fire elected officials "for serious abuse of authority, failure to check corruption, compromising national security interests and violation of the Constitution."

Political, civil rights and legal groups have protested the planned changes, saying they give Musharraf too much power and prevent a return to true democracy, The Associated Press says.

Political sources told Reuters the package was unlikely to find favor with opposition parties which want Musharraf to hand over to a neutral interim government which should oversee the elections.

Last month, Pakistan's two main political alliances, which include former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party and Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, rejected Musharraf's invitation for a meeting to consult them on how to tackle a military standoff with nuclear rival India.

They said they would not meet him unless the agenda included their main demand that he step down, Reuters says.




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