ISLAMABAD        -              PPP Vice President Senator Sherry Rehman has said that the federal government cannot undo the 18th Amendment easily as it was passed with consensus. Speaking to The Nation, the PPP stalwart said the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf-led government had started an untimely debate on a settled issue.

“I really don’t see why in the middle of such unprecedented crisis, when the government itself has projected 150,000 Covid-19 cases by the end of May, a deeply polarising political red herring of repealing the 18th Amendment has been thrown into an already frought public conversation,” she said. She added: “Instead of trying to unite the country on one strategy to fight this pandemic, the federal govt has started misleading the public in a series of mixed messages about the PPP’s performance as part of the Sindh Government’s actions, which have been based on medical grounds, as opposed to political competition.”

The PPP parliamentary leader in the Senate said the government was confused about policy “or unwilling to take tough decisions that will save lives but may cost them a few votes? Running a country through a crisis requires unwavering leadership, and the PPP has been seeking political unity from day one, only to be repeatedly criticised publicly for taking decisions that are its due right.” The 18th Amendment was passed by the National Assembly  on April 8, 2010,  removing the power of the President to dissolve the Parliament unilaterally, turning Pakistan from a semi-Presidential to a Parliamentary republic, and renaming North-West Frontier Province to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The package was intended to counter the sweeping powers amassed by the Presidency under former Presidents Pervez Musharraf and Zia-ul-Haq and to ease political instability in Pakistan.

The amendment bill was passed by the Senate on April 15, 2010 and it became part of the Constitution when the then President Asif Ali Zardari put his signature on the bill on April 19, 2010.

Over the weekend, Federal Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed claimed the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) will support changes in the 18th amendment if the cases against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and brother Shehbaz Sharif are quashed.

“I am stating it with responsibility that the Opposition has had a meeting with Asad Umar.  I am a minister and I can only give you a hint that negotiations are underway,” he said. The PML-N, he said, also wanted changes in the National Accountability Bureau law.

Senator Sherry Rehman said PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari  had maintained a completely mature tone and participated in online meetings to share experiences and inputs.

“Somehow, instead of using crisis as an opportunity to build political capital for saving both lives and livelihoods, the federal government has launched into a series of vicious political attacks against the PPP and Sindh government,” she said.

The PPP, she said, had repeatedly urged the government not to distract the public or “our focus from the important work we all need to do, save lives and then also try to save peoples jobs and businesses.” The 18th amendment, she said was a peaceful constitutional reworking of Pakistan’s social contract as a federation.

“If the PTI (Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf) feels it is more comfortable with a Presidential system and rule by ordinance, both of which have failed Pakistan disastrously, then it should reconcile with the political reality of democratic governance, which require a 2/3 majority to effect change,” the PPP lawmaker said. This amendment, Sherry Rehman said, came about after 90 meetings over a year, and across the board political consensus, in the need for strengthening the federation through devolving powers to the provinces.

“Many members of the ruling party unfortunately have not reconciled with the fact that a Parliamentary system requires consensus-building and political maturity,” she said. Sherry Rehman warned that this was neither the time nor the place to be fighting one another on settled issues.

“Right now we should be worrying about medical overstretch and potential joblessness in the ranking of priorities. We strongly urge everyone to fight the coronavirus, not Sindh,” she stated.