The Constitution of Pakistan is often regarded as a dynamic and evolving document. Given the premature demise of Pakistan’s initial two constitutions at the hands of power-hungry individuals, the resilience and survival of the third constitution, established 50 years ago, can be deemed nothing short of a miracle. The draft of this third constitution was presented to the National Assembly by the then Law Minister, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, on December 31, 1972.

Commencing on February 17, 1973, debates and discussions continued for 34 sittings. The 1973 constitution was officially ratified on April 10, 1973, endorsed by the then President, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and enforced from August 14, 1973, during a notable event hosted by the then Balochistan Governor, Sardar Akbar Bugti, in Quetta. This new constitution not only replaced the presidential form of government with a parliamentary one, aligned with the Westminster system but also transformed Pakistan into a federation, ensuring the protection of fundamental rights.

Considering that the first constitution (1956) extensively borrowed from the colonial bureaucratic system, the framers of the 1973 constitution prioritized a strict adherence to the democratic principle of the separation of powers. Drawing lessons from the failure of the second constitution (1962), the architects of this third charter in social, political, and economic matters learned that the state’s power should be widely dispersed, rejecting the presidential form established by the second, or ‘Ayubian,’ constitution.

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The era of the absolute ruler, Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, is notably discussed in Professor Karl Von Vorys’ work, “Political Development in Pakistan.” This analysis focuses on the practical limitations of Ayub’s ability to mobilize mass support, even with the backing of a powerful army.

During the formulation of the new constitution, Ayub expressed his perspective, stating, “… the situation is not irremediable if tackled with resolution and courage, and that has to be provided by top leadership – ME.” Upon introducing the constitution, his address to the nation concluded with the words, “Now, therefore, I, Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, do at this moment enact this constitution.” To solidify his grasp on national power, Ayub introduced a system named Basic Democracy.

In essence, the framers of the 1973 constitution were meticulous in ensuring that their product explicitly avoided the pitfalls that led to the failure of the two earlier versions. This constitution transformed Pakistan into a parliamentary democracy by shifting substantial powers from the president to the parliament, led by the elected prime minister.

The tragic episode of the breakup of Pakistan in 1971 served as a crucial lesson, compelling the framers of the Constitution to advocate for a federal parliamentary democracy. The conclusion was that each unit of the country should have adequate constitutional guarantees and a fair distribution of legislative powers. This right was further fortified by the 18th Amendment, aiming to rectify the mutilation of the constitution through numerous amendments imposed by military despots who seized power in 1977 and 1999. These acts were legitimized by the apex court, which even permitted a military ruler to amend the constitution at will.

The 1973 constitution also ushered in bicameralism, introducing the Senate to act as a saucer, tempering the enthusiasm of legislation enacted by the National Assembly. However, these 50 years were not without challenges. Assaults on its democratic character occurred during the rules of Gen Zia and Gen Musharraf.

While celebrating the resilience of the 1973 constitution, concerns arise as segments of the National Assembly turn to the streets to promote their agendas, rather than actively participating in the legislative process within the house. The threat to elected democracy now emanates from within. A weakened parliament implies a weakened democracy, jeopardizing its claim as the ultimate repository of the nation’s right to self-governance.