The Constitutional Story of Pakistan in perspective of the month of March and upcoming General Elections

23rd March has a great significance in the history of Pakistan. It is the day when famous Pakistan Resolution was moved and passed in a  Lahore Session of  the Muslim League in 1940 which made it clear that the partition of  Indo-Pak sub-continent and set up of a separate Muslim State is the ultimate demand of the Muslims of India and thus it laid down the foundation of Pakistan. Later,  after the establishment of the country,  Minar-e-Pakistan was built at the same place where Muslim League passed the resolution and the day has been celebrated as Pakistan Day since then.

But very few people know the fact that 23rd March has  another big reason to be remembered in Pakistan’s history. The first constitution of Pakistan was enacted on March 23, 1956 And Pakistan got a position of the free Republican State from the dominion of the Great Britain.

No one can deny the importance of a constitution in the modern democratic world. The idea of constitution was first elaborated by Aristotle in his classification of governments  as monarchies, tyrannies, aristocracies, democracies and so on. In its wider sense, the term constitution means the whole scheme whereby a country is governed; i.e. the body of doctrines and practices that form the fundamental organizing principle of a political state. In its narrowest sense, constitution means the leading legal rules usually collected into some document that comes to be almost venerated as “The Constitution.”

A symbol of a state’s independence and sovereignty,  constitution  clearly explains the division of power and functions among distinct branches of government including judiciary, legislature and executive as well as the relationship among the central and provincial units. So, on one side if it protects the civil rights and liberties, and on the other, it helps to rule out the political conflicts by maintaining a system of check and balance.

In some states such as the United States, the constitution is a specific written document; in others, such as the United Kingdom, it is a collection of documents, statutes, and traditional practices that are generally accepted as governing political matters.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, the task of framing a constitution was entrusted in 1947 to a Constituent Assembly that was also to function as the country’s interim legislature under the Government of India Act 1935, which was taken as the interim constitution with some changes. It was federal in form, with the Constituent Assembly and the a governor general at the centre and with provincial assemblies with governors of provinces on the provincial level. However, extraordinary wide powers were given to the governor general in establishing the power relationship among the various sectors of the country.

Pakistan’s first constitution was enforced in 1956 after nine years of independence. One of the lengthiest written constitution of the world, it provided for the federal , parliamentary form of government and allowed the president far-reaching powers to suspend federal and provincial parliamentary government. The 1956 constitution also included the “parity formula” by which representation in the National Assembly for East and West Pakistan would be decided on a parity rather than population basis.

This constitution failed to satisfy the different sections of the society and finally abrogated by the imposition of Martial Law in the country on  October 8, 1958. The then Commander in Chief, General Ayub Khan appointed a Constitution commission under the Chairmanship of Justice Shahab-ud-Din in 1960 to frame the new constitution.  A new and the second constitution  of the country was promulgated in 1962, provided for the election of the president and National and provincial assemblies by an electoral college composed of 80,000 members of local councils. Although a federal form of government was retained, the assemblies had little power, for, in effect, power was centralised through the authority of governors acting under the president. The constitution of 1962 remained in force till 1969. It  also could not accomplish the desired target of political stability and was superseded by martial law.

In April 1973,  a new constitution, the third in Pakistan’s 25-year history was adopted by the National Assembly and was enforced on 14th August 1973, which is still in practice.The present constitution of the country  is in written form, consists of a preamble , 280 articles and six schedules.Fundamentally federal in nature, it contains separate lists which explains the division of powers between the central and provincial governments. It also provides for the parliamentary form of government where the elected representatives of the people elect the Prime Minister who is the Chief Executive of the country and remain in power as long as he enjoys the confidence of the House. So it makes him responsible to the parliament and to the people for his activities.

The current constitution has for the first time established a system of two houses in the country. The lower House is known as the National Assembly where every province has representation on population basis and the members are directly elected by the public while the Upper House is  known as the Senate consists of equal representatives from all provinces. Reflecting the spirit of a welfare state,  the 1973 constitution ensure the protection of fundamental rights  including the right to life, liberty, property, freedom of expression etc., and also promise equal status to minorities and women.  It is partly rigid as the method of amendment to the constitution is both complicated and lengthy. A bill of amendment can be passed only when it is approved by the two-third majority of the national assembly and also by a majority of the senate along with President’s assent.

In short, the constitutional story of Pakistan is full of turns and moves Many amendments and chances have been brought in the constitution after 1973. The major one was the 8th amendment which was introduced in 1985 and gave discretionary powers to the President of Pakistan to dissolve the National Assembly. It was recently  canceled.

In fact,  the chief function of a constitution is to serve as the standard of the legitimacy by which governments may be judged. . It requires both stability as well as adaptability to the social, economic, technological, and other changes that are inevitable in the life of a state. But in case of Pakistan, most of the time constitutions were failed to meet the demand of the changing time and were often misused and misiterepreted by the various governments for  their purposes.As a politically aware and conscious youth of Pakistan, we are equally responsible to read and understand our constitution,   respect it and protect this scared document as only its protection can ensure the protection of our individual rights and national solidarity. And, of course, don’t forget that 23rd is not only  important historically but also constitutionally.

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