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Pakistan - Government

Pakistan is a parliamentary federal republic in South Asia, with a population of over 170 million people. The government is based on the much-amended constitution of 1973, which was suspended twice (in 1977 and 1999) and reinstated twice (in 1985 and 2002). According to the constitution, Pakistan is a federal parliamentary system with a president as head of state and a prime minister as head of government. The legislature, or parliament, is the Majlis-i-Shoora (Council of Advisers), consisting of the Lower House, which is often called the National Assembly, and the Upper House, or Senate. National Assembly members are directly elected for five-year terms. Senate members are elected by provincial assemblies, with equal representation from each of the four provinces as well as representatives from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Islamabad Capital Territory. Both the Senate and National Assembly may initiate and pass legislation, but only the National Assembly can approve federal budgets and finance bills. However, parliament often has had little real political power. For example, in 2003 the only bill passed by the National Assembly was the national budget.

Politics in Pakistan often have not operated according to the constitution. The military and Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) frequently have been the pre-eminent actors in the country's power structure, and in 1999 General Pervez Musharraf assumed power in a military coup. Moreover, there has been some concern that Pakistan could become a "failed state" because of the apparent inability of any single entity to control the country, the weakened productivity of a population beset by years of economic difficulties, and continuing problems of communal conflict and terrorism. Ethnic and provincial tensions often are manifested in rivalries between political parties, and several governments have been ended by assassination or military coup rather than by formal, electoral change.

The concept of the Islamic state has dominated religion-political thinking in Pakistan ever since its creation in 1947. Religion has played an important role in politics, and religious differences have been very salient in Pakistani government and civil tensions of whether and how to synthesize Islamic principles into an essentially secular and Western form of government. Religious differences among politically influential actors have become increasingly prominent since the early 1980s, when politics became more religiously oriented under the rule of General Zia ul-Haq (1977-88). As religious groups' access to government resources increased, groups competed for political resources and the capacity to promote their approach to Islam, and sectarian divisions often became violent.

Pakistan has had a troubled constitutional history since its very inception as a state. Not long after partition from India in 1947, Pakistan was plunged into a Constitutional crisis in 1954 when the Governor General dissolved the Constituent Assembly when he did not agree to the proposed constitution. This first major subversion of the constitutional process was challenged before the Federal Court, which validated the dissolution of the assembly in the Moulvi Tamizuddin case (1955). Although a new Constituent Assembly adopted the country's first constitution in 1956, it lasted only two years until the first President of Pakistan, Major-General Iskander Mirza, abrogated the Constitution, dissolved the national and provincial legislatures and imposed Martial Law, appointing General Ayub Khan as the Chief Martial Law Administrator.

In the Dosso case (1958), the Supreme Court of Pakistan validated once again the extra-constitutional actions of the executive and enunciated the doctrine of 'revolutionary legality.' After passing a new Constitution in 1962 that empowered an autocratic executive, General Ayub Khan ruled until 1969. He was forced to hand over the reins of power to General Yahya Khan after widespread student protests led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his newly-founded Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP). General Yahya Khan presided over a disastrous military campaign in East Pakistan, Pakistan's loss to India in the war of 1971, and ultimately the secession of East Pakistan to form Bangladesh.

In 1973 Pakistan adopted its current constitution after thorough deliberation and consensus of all the political parties. The Constitution of Pakistan created a parliamentary form of government following the British model whereby the elected Prime Minister is the locus of executive power and the President is a figurehead. The other key foundational principle of the 1973 Constitution is that of federalism. Pakistan's four provinces each have their own provincial legislatures. Whereas the seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of the national parliament, are distributed between provinces on a demographic basis, each province is entitled to equal representation in the upper house, the Senate. Constitutional amendments require the approval of two-thirds majorities in both the National Assembly and the Senate.

In 1977, in the aftermath of protests from an alliance of opposition political parties over claims of rigging of the elections, General Zia-ul-Haq deposed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as Prime Minister and imposed Martial Law in the country, placing the Constitution in abeyance and replacing it in the interim with a Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO). In the Nusrat Bhutto case (1977) the Supreme Court validated the coup on the basis of the Common Law "doctrine of state necessity." Zia then made several changes to the Constitution to strengthen the power of the president, including introducing Article 58(2)(b) to the Constitution via the notorious Eighth Constitutional Amendment. Article 58(2)(b) granted the President discretionary powers to dismiss the Parliament and call for fresh elections.

In the 1988 elections Benazir Bhutto led the PPP to victory and became the first Prime Minister after the Zia era, ushering in a decade of alternation between the elected governments of Bhutto's PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) led by Mian Nawaz Sharif. The military interfered several times in politics and backed presidential use of Article 58(2) (b) to dissolve the government, usually justifying its actions based on corruption charges against the political leaders.

In August 2008, General Musharraf resigned as President amidst a threat of impeachment by the legislators. With the subsequent election of Asif Ali Zardari, chairman of the PPP, as President of Pakistan the ruling coalition's interest in renegotiating the shift back to a more parliamentary structure of governance appeared to have dwindled.

On 19 April 2010 president Asif Ali Zardari signed into law the 18th Amendment to the Pakistani Constitution. The Constitution (Eighteenth Amendment) Act, 2010 was unanimously passed with the support of all political parties in the Parliament and was promulgated on 20 April 2010. The Act includes 102 amendments in all, which amended, substituted, added or deleted various provisions of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The amendment realigns executive powers by restoring the prime minister as the premier civilian official and returning the presidency to its original, more ceremonial role, largely eliminates the 17th amendment constitutional changes made by former President Musharraf to strengthen the presidency. Zardari thus gave up key presidential powers. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had less interest in trying to force Zardari out once his presidential powers were reduced to that of a figurehead president, while Zardari would in any event remain a powerful political figure by virtue of his role co-chairing the PPP.

The reform package also reorganized center-province relations, empowering provincial assemblies to elect their own chief ministers. The constitutional reform package helped Zardari shrink the moral high ground Nawaz Sharif had gained on the 17th amendment issue, while also keeping the smaller nationalist parties that favor provincial autonomy, including ANP and MQM, on the PPP's side.




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