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Back to basics Changing the Constitution

  • Anum Memon
  • May, 2019
  • 207
  • Factfile Pakistan

Our political science commentator opens up our Pakistan factfile − and the full dataset behind it

Constitution is a set of laws and principles may be written or unwritten on which a country is acknowledged to be governed.

Pakistan became independent from Britain in 1947. Under Section 8 of the Indian Independence Act, 1947, the Government of India Act, 1935 became, with certain adaptations, the working constitution of Pakistan. But the need for a constitution to be framed by the elected representatives of the people was all the more necessary for the free citizens of a sovereign state. There were three constitutions beginning with the 1956 Constitution, then the 1962 one and finally the 1973 Constitution.

The first Constituent Assembly was formed under the ‘Independence Act’ and entrusted with the task of formulating a constitution for the new-born Pakistan.


The first Constitution was enforced in the country on March 23, 1956. Pakistan’s status as a dominion ended and the country was declared an Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Subsequently, the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan became the interim National Assembly and Governor General Iskander Mirza was sworn in as the first President of Pakistan.

One of the main features of the Constitution was its Islamic character. The president, who was required to be a Muslim of at least 40 years of age, was to set up an organisation for Islamic research with the aim of establishing a true Islamic society. The Objectives Resolution was, however, only made the preamble of the Constitution and not included in its main text.

The president had the power to appoint the prime minister from amongst the members of the National Assembly. However, his appointee had to take a vote of confidence from the Assembly within two months of his appointment. The president also had the power to remove the prime minister if he felt that the prime minister had lost the confidence of the majority of the National Assembly members.

However, the Constitution proved to be short lived as on October 7, 1958, President Iskander Mirza staged a coup d’état. He abrogated the Constitution, imposed martial law and appointed General Muhammad Ayub Khan as the Chief Martial Law Administrator.


This Constitution provided for a federal system with the principle of parity between East Pakistan and West Pakistan. Both the provinces would run their separate provincial governments. The president was the head of the state as well as the head of the government. The minimum age was 35 and he could not hold the position for two consecutive terms and the term, was of five years.

‘The Principle of Basic Democracy’ was introduced for the first time in the country and the system of indirect elections presented. Only 80,000 basic Democrats were given the right to vote in the presidential elections. The Eighth Amendment later increased this number to 120,000. Half of them were to be from the Eastern Wing, the rest from the Western Wing of the country.

According to this Constitution, the executive was not separated from the legislature. The president exercised veto power in the legislative affairs and could even veto a bill passed by the National Assembly with a two-thirds majority. He had the power to issue ordinances when the Assembly was not in session.

Islamic clauses were included in the Constitution. These could not be challenged in any court of law. The state was named the ‘Republic of Pakistan’, but the first amendment added the word ‘Islamic’ to the name. The word ‘Islam’, but not the ‘Qur’an and Sunnah’, was used in the Islamic clauses to give a liberal touch to the Constitution.

Both Urdu and Bengali were made the national languages of Pakistan and English was declared as the official language of the country for the first 10 years. When General Ayub Khan handed over power to General Yahya Khan, martial law was enforced in the country and the Constitution was terminated on March 25, 1969.


This Constitution was the first achievement of the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto government. The National Assembly approved the Constitution on April 10, 1973 and came into effect on August 14. Mr. Bhutto took over as the prime minister on this date and Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry was appointed as the President.

The prime minister would be elected by the majority of the National Assembly. The president was to be a Muslim above 45 years of age and elected by a joint sitting of members of the Parliament for five years. He could be re-elected but could not hold office for more than two terms.

The president was to act on the advice of the prime minister alone. Th...

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