Pakistan : Constitution and politics


Parliament of Pakistan
14 August 1947

The constitution in force at the time of the October 1999 coup was promulgated in 1973. The first amendment was introduced in 1974 and the fourteenth, in 1997. Much of it was suspended from 1977 and restored in December 1985. It was again suspended by the military government after the October 1999 coup, and was partially restored in November 2002, following the parliamentary elections. On 19 April 2010 far-reaching constitutional reforms (the Eighteenth Amendment Bill) were signed into law, reducing key presidential powers and broadening the distribution of power within the government. The President no longer has the power to dismiss the Prime Minister or the parliament.

The constitution proclaims Pakistan to be Islamic and democratic, with fundamental rights guaranteed, including the freedoms of thought, speech, religion and worship, assembly, association, and the press, as well as equality of status.

Under this constitution, the President is head of state and is elected for five years by an electoral college consisting of the members of both houses of parliament and of the four provincial assemblies. Until April 1997, the President had certain discretionary powers including the power to dissolve the National Assembly. These powers were restored by the military government immediately before the elections in October 2002 through the Legal Framework Order (LFO) together with other amendments. Under the eighteenth amendment of April 2010, however, the President’s role once again became largely ceremonial.

There is a bicameral legislature. The lower house is the National Assembly. From 2002 the Assembly had 342 members, comprising 272 members directly elected for five years by adult suffrage, plus 60 women and ten representatives of minorities (non-Muslims). These seats reserved for women and minorities’ representatives are allocated proportionally to all parties gaining more than five per cent of the directly elected seats. The Prime Minister is elected by the National Assembly. The upper house, the Senate, has 100 members (previously 87) elected for six years with about half of them retiring every three years. Each of the four provinces elects 22 senators, including four women and four technocrats; the remaining 12 are elected from the Federal Capital Territory and the tribal areas. Legal constitutional change requires the support of two-thirds of the total membership of the National Assembly and the Senate.


Last election:

August 2018

In June 2001 Army Chief of Staff General Pervez Musharraf – who had led a military government since October 1999 – dissolved parliament and the four provincial legislatures; President Rafiq Tarar resigned; and Musharraf became President. A referendum held in April 2002 confirmed Musharraf’s position as President for a period of five years.

National Assembly elections in October 2002 produced a hung parliament. The Pakistan Muslim League–Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q), which supported Musharraf, took 77 seats, followed by Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) with 63, Muttahida Majlis-e- Amal (MMA) with 45, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) with 14, National Democratic Alliance with 13 and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) with 13, leaving a large block of members of smaller parties and independents. The Commonwealth observer group present said that ‘on election day this was a credible election’, but that ‘in the context of various measures taken by the government we are not persuaded of the overall fairness of the process as a whole’.

The National Assembly elected Chaudhry Amir Hussain (PML-Q) as Speaker and Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali (PML-Q) as Prime Minister. The continuing dispute between Musharraf and the opposition parties on the status of the Legal Framework Order (and especially his power to dismiss the Prime Minister and dissolve the Assembly) and Musharraf’s own position as President and chief of army staff created political deadlock. Parliament was not functioning and the government ruled by decree. The MMA emerged as leader in the campaign against the Legal Framework Order as the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD) – an alliance of PPPP, PML-N and several smaller parties – was weakened by the death of its leader and the absence of exiled leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

In January 2004 Musharraf won confidence votes in the Assembly, the Senate and the four provincial assemblies. In May 2004, in view of the progress made towards democracy, CMAG readmitted Pakistan to the councils of the Commonwealth. In June 2004 the Prime Minister resigned and was succeeded by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain until July when he made way for Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz on his winning a seat in the Assembly. In December 2004 Musharraf announced he would continue as President and chief of army staff until 2007 when elections were due.

In the presidential election held in October 2007 Musharraf was unofficially proclaimed winner pending a key ruling by the Supreme Court regarding his eligibility to run for presidency while serving as chief of army staff.

Exiled Pakistan People’s Party leader Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October 2007 after the presidential election. On the way from the airport to Karachi her convoy was hit by a suicide bomb attack. She survived, but hundreds were killed and injured.

In November 2007, ostensibly because of national security concerns, Musharraf declared a state of emergency effectively suspending the country’s constitution by a provisional constitutional order (PCO). A news blackout was imposed on major private television stations. Several hundred protestors, journalists and political opponents of Musharraf were arrested and eight Supreme Court judges including the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudary, who would not recognise the PCO, were dismissed and put under house arrest.

Musharraf came under increasing international pressure to restore the country’s constitution and abide by the timetable for free and fair parliamentary elections. CMAG convened in Kampala on 22 November 2007 and suspended Pakistan from the councils of the Commonwealth, pending the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in that country.

Musharraf appointed a new Chief Justice and a caretaker Prime Minister, Muhammad Mian Soomro. He resigned as army chief and was sworn in as President for a five-year term. The state of emergency was lifted in December 2007.

Nawaz Sharif, exiled leader of PML-N, at his second attempt in the same year, was allowed to return. By end November 2007, both he and Bhutto had registered to participate in the following parliamentary elections. On 27 December 2007, as she was leaving an election rally in Rawalpindi, Bhutto was assassinated. Violence erupted throughout the country. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Benazir’s son, was chosen as her eventual successor; her husband Asif Ali Zardari was to lead the PPPP, as co-chair, until Bilawal had completed his education. The elections due for January were postponed.

The parliamentary elections were held in February 2008; the turnout was 44 per cent. Opposition parties won the most seats – PPPP won 125 seats and PML-N 91 – but no party had an absolute majority. The party supporting Musharraf, PML-Q, suffered huge losses, taking only 53 seats and many former ministers lost their seats. The MQM secured 25 seats. With no party securing a clear majority, PPPP, PML-N, Awami National Party (ANP, 13 seats) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) formed a coalition government headed by PPPP’s Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, as Prime Minister.

On 12 May 2008, CMAG met in London and agreed that, since it last met in November 2007, the Government of Pakistan had taken positive steps to fulfil its obligations in accordance with Commonwealth fundamental values and principles. It accordingly restored Pakistan as a full member of the Commonwealth.

In the face of warnings by the PPPP and PML-N leadership of impeachment by parliament, Musharraf announced his resignation as President in August 2008. In the ensuing presidential election, PPPP co-chair Zardari was elected to replace Musharraf in September 2008. Zardari (securing 481 electoral college votes) defeated PML-N’s candidate, Saeed-uz-zaman Siddiqui (153 votes), and PML-Q’s Mushahid Hussain Syed (44). In the lead-up to the election PML-N left the governing coalition, which then comprised PPPP, ANP, JUI-F and MQM.

Nine PML-N ministers resigned shortly after the presidential election, citing the apparent reluctance of the PPPP to reinstate judges previously dismissed during the 2007 state of emergency. The move effectively ended the PPPP- and PML-N-dominated coalition government and saw the beginning of a new one, consisting of the PPPP, ANP, JUI-F and MQM.

In late February 2009 the Supreme Court confirmed the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shabhaz from holding elected office. Following the verdict, governor’s rule was imposed in Punjab Province, where Shabhaz Sharif had held the post of Chief Minister, and Nawaz Sharif allied himself with the lawyers’ movement which had been campaigning for the reinstatement of the Chief Justice, asserting that the Supreme Court verdict demonstrated the lack of an independent judiciary.

Confronted by the prospect of large-scale popular unrest, in March 2009 the government announced the reinstatement of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and requested a review of the Supreme Court judgment that had disqualified the Sharifs from holding elected office. In May 2009 the Supreme Court reversed the judgment and Shabhaz Sharif was reinstated as Chief Minister in Punjab Province. In July 2009 the Supreme Court quashed Nawaz Sharif’s convictions of hijacking and terrorism (brought against him following the military coup of October 1999).

In November 2009 the Supreme Court revoked the National Reconciliation Ordinances of October 2007 which had granted immunity to those officials and politicians who had been charged with corruption and other offences. The revocation of the ordinances revived corruption charges against many of its beneficiaries.

On 26 April 2012 the Supreme Court convicted Prime Minister Gilani of contempt of court, following his refusal to request the Swiss authorities to reopen a money-laundering case against President Zardari, and on 19 June 2012 the Supreme Court disqualified Gilani from office. On 22 June Raja Pervez Ashraf was elected by parliament to succeed Gilani as Prime Minister.

On completion of the National Assembly’s five-year term in March 2013, national and provincial elections were called for 11 May 2013, and Mir Hazar Khan Khoso was sworn in as caretaker Prime Minister. In the elections, when turnout was 54 per cent, PML-N, led by Nawaz Sharif, took 184 of 323 Assembly seats (with 32.8 per cent of the votes); PPPP 42 (15.2 per cent); Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan, 30 (16.9 per cent); MQM 23 (5.4 per cent); JUI-F 12 (3.2 per cent); and independents eight (13.0 per cent). On 5 June 2013 parliamentarians elected Sharif Prime Minister (with 244 votes); his closest rivals were Makhdoom Amin Fahim of PPPP (42) and Makhdoom Javed Hashmi of PTI (31).

The presidential election held on 30 July 2013 was won by the PML-N’s candidate, Mamnoon Hussain, who secured 432 electoral college votes, defeating Wajihuddin Ahmed of the PTI (77 votes). The PPPP did not field a candidate.

Head of government

The Hon Imran Khan, Prime Minister