Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan

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The VIII Amendment (Eighth Amendment) to the Constitution of Pakistan, was short-time amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, which was passed by the Majlis-e-Shoora, in the absence of elected Parliament of Pakistan, in 1985. The VIII Amendment was drafted and later enforced by the joint Technocratic-Military government of General Zia-ul-Haq . The VIII Amendment changed Pakistan's system of government from parliamentary democratic-republic system to a semi-presidential system. The VIII Amendment strengthened the authority of President and also permitted numbers of additional powers to dismiss the elected government of Prime minister. These powers included the right, expressed in sub-section 2(b) inserted into Article 58— the most important part of the Amendment—, to dissolve the National Assembly (but not the Senate) if, in his or her opinion, "a situation has arisen in which the Government of the Federation cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and an appeal to the electorate is necessary." (Constitution of Pakistan, Article 58) with the consequence of dismissing the Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet.

Text of VIII Amendment (Article 58 2(b)[edit]

The Eighth Amendment, besides making a number of other changes to the Constitution, introduced the following clause into Article 58 of the Constitution:

Impact on democracy[edit]

The VIII Amendment was first used by General Zia-ul-Haq to dismiss the government elected technocrat Prime minister Khan Junejo on alleged corruption cases, though General Zia developed serious matters of authority with the Prime minister who wanted to decrease the authoritative role of General Zia. During the period of 1988 until 1996, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan made an extensive use of the VIII Amendment and the Article 58 2(b), which granted the discretionary power to dissolve the National Assembly mentioned in the previous section. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan overused and abused his powers to dismiss the elected governments of former Prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan first used the VIII Amendment on August 6, 1990 against Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on alleged cases of nepotism and the corruption. In 1993, President Ishaq Khan again used this Amendment to dismiss the people elected government of Prime minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif. In the second instance, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was reinstated as Prime Minister by the Supreme Court, but the resulting stalemate ended with the resignations of both Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the Parliament of Pakistan. The use of Article 58 2(b) was almost exclusively justified by the President as necessary, for the removal of corrupt governments that, it was asserted, had lost the confidence of the people. Elections were held each time that caused the ruling party to lose its majority or plurality in the National Assembly. It was again used in 1996 by President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari against his own party leader Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in November 1996.

In 1997, the XIII Amendment (Thirteenth Amendment) to the constitution of Pakistan was passed, stripping the President of the power to dissolve the National Assembly and call for new elections, effectively reducing the Presidency to a ceremonial figurehead.

Pakistan's democracy provides no means for the people to directly recall members of Parliament before the end of their terms. Consequently, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments had the effect of removing the institutional Checks and Balances on the Prime Minister's power, by giving him or her immunity from being legally dismissed. The power of the President's office was partially restored by the Seventeenth Amendment. The power to dissolve the National Assembly and dismiss the Prime Minister is now subject to Supreme Court approval. In 2010, the XVIII (Eighteenth Amendment) to the Constitution of Pakistan was passed by Parliament of Pakistan reverting the 17th Amendment at an effective and immediate course.

The Eighth Amendment as a compromise[edit]

In general discourse, the Eighth Amendment has become synonymous with Article 58 2(b), which in turn is considered to be the provision that introduced the presidential power to dissolve the National Assembly. However, the Eighth Amendment was in fact a compromise between the Parliament elected in the non-party elections of 1985 and then President Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. Prior to the 1985 election, over a period of 6 years, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq had already made numerous amendments to the Constitution of 1973 through various Constitution Amendment Orders, the most significant being the Revival of Constitution of 1973 Order (President's Order No. 14 of 1985). That Order had in fact granted to the President even more discretion in dissolving the National Assembly. Clause (2) added to Article 58 by that Order stated: "The President may also dissolve the National Assembly in his discretion where, in his opinion, an appeal to the electorate is necessary." Note that the test of the constitutional functioning of the government was not required for the President to dissolve the National Assembly.

It must also be stated that the Eighth Amendment also caused the elected Parliament to endorse all Orders made by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq by substituting the Article 270A introduced by President's Order No. 14 of 1985 by a slightly modified version, preserving the text declaring the validity of all of Gen. Zia's actions, including his takeover of July 5, 1977 and subsequent constitutional amendments.

It is not clear whether this explicit parliamentary approval was required for Gen. Zia's amendments to obtain legal validity, but it appears that Gen. Zia considered it desirable to obtain this approval and thus chose to compromise by watering down some of the presidential powers his amendments had granted.

See also[edit]