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An Analysis of the 1956 Constitution of Pakistan

Mubarra Kanwal

Student of Mass communication University of Okara

After assuming office as Prime Minister, Chaudhary Muhammad Ali and his team worked diligently to formulate a constitution. The committee assigned the task of drafting the Constitution presented the draft Bill in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on January 9, 1956. However, the bill faced opposition from Bengali autonomists. Bhashai, the leader of the Awami League in East Pakistan, even threatened secession to press for autonomy, leading his party to stage a walkout from the Assembly on February 29 when the Constitution was adopted. Subsequently, the Awami League boycotted the official ceremonies celebrating the inauguration of the Constitution. Despite this opposition, the Constitution was adopted and came into effect on March 23, 1956. With this, Pakistan’s status as a dominion ended, and the country was declared the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Constituent Assembly became the interim National Assembly, and Governor-General Iskander Mirza was sworn in as the first President of Pakistan.

The 1956 Constitution consisted of 234 articles, divided into 13 parts and 6 schedules. Its chief characteristics were as follows:

Pakistan was declared an Islamic Republic, mandating that only a Muslim could become the President of the country. The President would establish an Organization for Islamic Research, and fostering good relations with Muslim countries became a primary objective of the foreign policy.

The Objectives Resolution and Quaid’s declaration that Pakistan would be a democratic state based on Islamic principles of social justice were included in the preamble of the Constitution. Steps were to be taken to enable Muslims individually and collectively to order their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah, and to implement Islamic moral standards. The Constitution aimed to respect the sectarian interpretations among Muslims. Measures were also outlined for the proper organization of zakat, waqfs, and mosques. However, a clause related to the elimination of riba, which was part of the draft, was eventually dropped.

The Constitution provided for a federal form of government, with three lists of subjects: federal, provincial, and concurrent. The federal list consisted of 33 items, the provincial list of 94 items, and the concurrent list of 19 items. Federal legislation took precedence over provincial legislation regarding the concurrent list. In case of conflicts between the federal and provincial governments or between provincial governments, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court acted as a mediator. The federal government exercised broader control over provincial matters in emergencies.

Although the Constitution provided for a parliamentary form of government, it vested the executive authority of the Federation in the President. Any Muslim citizen of Pakistan, at least forty years old, could be elected as the President for a term of five years, with a limit of two tenures. The President had the power to appoint a Prime Minister from among the MNAs (Members of the National Assembly) who had to secure a vote of confidence from the house within two months. The Prime Minister was responsible for informing the President about all cabinet decisions. Ministers could be selected from outside the National Assembly, but they were required to get elected within six months.

The President had the power to summon, prorogue, and dissolve the Assembly on the advice of the cabinet. No bill imposing taxes or involving expenditures could be moved without the President’s consent. The President held partial veto power and could give or withhold assent to a bill passed by the Assembly.

The Prime Minister and the cabinet were responsible for aiding and advising the President, who was required to follow the advice of the cabinet except in cases where he was empowered to act at his discretion.

The Constitution established a unicameral legislature, known as the National Assembly, consisting of 300 members. The age limit for candidates seeking a seat in the National Assembly was 25 years. The principle of parity was accommodated by treating West Pakistan as one unit and dividing seats equally between the two wings of the country. The National Assembly was required to meet at least twice a year, with one session to be held in Dhaka.

Members of the Assembly were elected through direct elections based on adult franchise. For the first ten years, five additional seats were reserved for women from each wing. Any citizen above 21 years of age was considered an adult.

The provincial structure mirrored that of the center, with 300 members in both provincial assemblies. Ten additional seats were reserved for women. Punjab was given 40% of the seats in the West Pakistan Assembly.

The Constitution was a written one, allowing for its provisions to be formally documented.

It possessed a flexible nature, as two-thirds of the Assembly members could bring about amendments to the Constitution.

Fundamental rights were enshrined in the Constitution and were justiciable. However, the President had the power to suspend fundamental rights in times of emergency.

Elaborate provisions were made for the higher judiciary to ensure its independence.

Urdu and Bengali were declared as state languages. English would continue as an official language for the first twenty years, after which a commission appointed by the President would make recommendations for its replacement.

The 1956 Constitution, known as the First Constitution of Pakistan, was subsequently abrogated by Muhammad Ayub Khan, who enforced Martial Law in 1958. He became the head of state and introduced a presidential form of government through the 1962 constitution. However, due to political crises, the 1962 constitution was also abolished. Finally, the third constitution, the 1973 constitution, was enforced on August 14, 1973, reintroducing a parliamentary form of government.

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