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Constitution of 1956

After assuming charge as Prime Minister, Chaudhary Muhammad Ali and his team worked hard to formulate a constitution. The committee, which was assigned the task to frame the Constitution, presented the draft Bill in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on January 9, 1956. The bill was opposed by the Bengali autonomists. Bhashai, the leader of Awami League in East Pakistan, even used the threat of secession to press for autonomy and his party staged a walkout from the Assembly on February 29, when the Assembly adopted the Constitution. Later on, Awami League boycotted the official ceremonies celebrating the inauguration of the Constitution. However, in spite of their opposition, the Constitution was adopted and was enforced on March 23, 1956. With this Pakistan’s status as a dominion ended and the country was declared an Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Constituent Assembly became interim National Assembly and Governor-General Iskander Mirza sworn in as the first President of Pakistan.

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

  1. Pakistan was declared as an Islamic Republic and it was made mandatory that only a Muslim could become the President of the country. President would set up an Organization for Islamic Research. Good relations with the Muslim countries became the main objective of the Foreign Policy. Objectives Resolution and Quaid’s declaration that Pakistan would be a democratic state based on Islamic principles of social justice were made the preamble of the Constitution. Steps were to be taken to enable the Muslims individually and collectively to order their lives in accordance with the teaching of Quran and Sunnah and to implement Islamic moral standards. The sectarian interpretations among the Muslims were to get due regard. Measures were to be taken to properly organize zakat, waqfs, and mosques. However, one clause relating to the elimination of riba, which was the part of the draft was eventually dropped.
  2. The constitution provided for the federal form of government with three lists of subjects: federal, provincial and concurrent. The federal list consisted of 33 items, provincial of 94 items and concurrent list of 19 items.  The federal legislation was to get precedence over provincial legislation regarding concurrent list. In case of a conflict between federal and provincial governments, or between the provincial governments, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was to act as a mediator. Federal government exercised wider control in provincial matters in case of emergency.
  3. Though the constitution provided for the Parliamentary form of Government, yet it declared that the executive authority of the Federation would be in the president.
  4. Any Muslim citizen of Pakistan, who was at least forty years old, could be elected as the President of Pakistan for the term of five years. No one was entitled to hold this office for more than two tenures. 3/4th members of the Assembly could impeach the president.
  5. President could appoint from amongst the MNAs a Prime Minister who had to take the vote of confidence from the house in two months. The Prime Minister had to inform the president about all the decisions of the cabinet.
  6. Ministers could be taken from outside the National Assembly but they were to get themselves elected within six months.
  7. President had the power to summon, prorogue, and dissolve the Assembly on the advice of the cabinet. No bill imposing taxes or involving expenditure could be moved without his consent. He had partial veto power. He could give or withhold his assent to a bill passed by the Assembly.
  8. Prime Minister and his cabinet were to aid and advise the president. The president was required to follow the advice of the cabinet except where he was empowered to act in his own discretion.
  9. The Constitution entitled for a Unicameral Legislature. The National Assembly was to consist of 300 members. Age limit of a candidate for a seat in National Assembly was 25 years.
  10. Principle of parity was accommodated in the Constitution. West Pakistan was treated as one unit and seats were divided equally between the two wings of the country. National Assembly was to meet at least twice a year. Minimum of one session should be held at Dhaka.
  11. Members of the Assembly were to be elected on the basis of Direct Elections conducted on the basis of Adult Franchise. However, for the first ten years five additional seats were reserved for women from each wing. Every citizen, who was more than 21 years in age was considered as an adult.
  12. The provincial structure was similar to that of the center. There were 300 members in both provincial assemblies. Ten additional seats were reserved for women. Punjab was given 40% seats in the West Pakistan Assembly.
  13. It was a Written Constitution.
  14. It was a Flexible Constitution and two third members of the Assembly could bring amendment in the constitution.
  15. Fundamental Rights were made justiciable. However, the President had power to suspend the fundamental rights in case of emergency.
  16. Elaborate provisions were made for the higher judiciary to ensure its independence.
  17. Urdu and Bengali were declared as the state languages. However, for the first twenty years English was to continue as an official language. After ten years, the president was to appoint a commission to make recommendations for the replacement of English.

The constitution was never practically implemented as no elections were held. It was eventually abrogated on October 7, 1958 when Martial Law was enforced.

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