The 1973 Constitution of Pakistan envisaged a Parliamentary System of government, with the balance of power tilted towards the Prime Minister. The President could not exercise his powers without the concurrence of the Prime Minister. The Eight Constitutional Amendment, however, altered the form of the Constitution drastically. Passed by the Senate on November 14, 1985, the Eight Amendment affected almost 19 clauses of the Constitution and brought the office of the President of Pakistan almost at par with that of the Prime Minister.
The President was given the right to nominate the Prime Minister, Governors of the provinces, and Judges of the High Court and Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice. Democratically elected Prime Minister thus became subservient to the President.
Though the President was to act on the advice of the Prime Minister, he had the power to be informed about the decisions relating to the administrative affairs of the federation and proposals of legislation. The President could ask the Prime Minister to get a vote of confidence from the Assembly, issue ordinances, set dates for the elections for the National Assembly and appoint caretaker government. The President had the power of appointing service chiefs and other important federal officers. He could also call a referendum on an issue of great national importance.
However, the most controversial power awarded to the office of the President was under the Article 58(2) b, which was the power of dissolution of the National Assembly at his own discretion.
According to the proponents of this clause, post-constitutional deadlocks in the country had shown the necessity to vest authority in the President so that in case of a political crisis, the Assembly could be dissolved and new elections could be held and Martial Law could be avoided. The Article 58(2) b changed the entire complexion of the Constitution. The Constitution was transformed from a Parliamentary System into a Presidential one. This Amendment was like the proverbial Sword of Damocles for the successive governments. After the passing of Article 58(2) b, the National Assemblies were dissolved on four occasions using its powers. The dissolution of the Assembly by President Zia-ul-Haq in 1988, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1990 and in 1993, and President Farooq Leghari in 1996 are subject to a lot of speculation.
Other clauses amended by the Eight Amendment dealt with the office of the Prime Minister, Senate, and Governors. Article 51 increased the number of the National Assembly seats from 200 to 207. The number of the Senate seats was increased from 63 to 87 under Article 59. The Eight Amendment also indemnified the entire President’s Orders, Ordinances, Martial Law Regulations and Martial Law Orders, including the Referendum Orders made between July 5, 1977, and September 13, 1985.
The Eighth Amendment is considered as a landmark in the constitutional history of Pakistan. It not only altered the very form of the Constitution from purely Parliamentary to semi-Presidential, but also changed the constitutional and political history of the country.
This article was last updated on Sunday, June 01, 2003