Dr. Mahboob Hussain

In strong democracies of the modern world the parliament is deemed the most superior institution. It is considered the mother of all institutions in the modern state and a famous saying is that ‘if Parliament decides to call the day a night nobody can stop it.” Pakistan is among such countries where the institution of parliament has been paid less attention and generally considered a distressing institution.

If we trace out the history of this important institution, we look on the eve of the partition of India the Indian parliament was partitioned like many other belongings of British India. Eventually, single assembly of India was divided into two separate Constituent Assemblies for newly born states of Pakistan and India. These assemblies were empowered to author the Constitution and legislate for the new sovereign states. The Constituent Assembly of Pakistan started its journey towards constitution making at a low pace. In contrary, that of India completed the task of constitution-making in November 1949. The rapidity of Indian assembly in making the constitution denotes that age and experience of the institution betters the performance. Indian Assembly was moving forward with the experience and parliamentary traditions which it inherited from British India. On the other hand, Pakistan’s assembly fell prey to petty problems due to being newly born and inexperienced. The effects of this inexperience come to the surface even today. A comparative overview of the debates of both assemblies during earlier days shows that Indian assembly was taking the partition of India in a normal way while the Assembly of Pakistan was in a disturbed and confused state. The opposition in the Indian Assembly was treated as a parliamentary tradition while in the first assembly of Pakistan, different opinions were suppressed and the difference with Muslim League was taken as the difference with the state of Pakistan.

One of the exclusive points of our early parliamentary history is that Government of Pakistan hired the services of a constitutional expert Robert Drayton who kept on conveying important internal information to the British High Commissioner. In this way, the British government could lay its direct or indirect influence on constitution-making in Pakistan. The appointment of a constitutional expert also puts a question mark on the expertise of the whole assembly in the field of constitution making. The popular representation lost the public support with the passage of time. The adverse public reaction to the performance of the assembly strengthened the anti-democratic forces and nurtured the pro establishment style of politics. The impact of such politics continually remained existent in the next assemblies of Pakistan.

These circumstances paved the way to gave birth to the use of controversial ‘law of necessity’ in Pakistan. When Governor General dissolved the first assembly through encroaching use of his powers the conflict between him and the Assembly germinated to other institutions of state. The institution of Executive (Governor General) used other institution (Judiciary) against third institution (Parliament) and fourth institution (Army) played its part from behind the scene. The significant institution of parliament got weakened in this institutional in-fight. Thus, newly built democracy was derailed that could not tack track after decades.

A short history of our country has witnessed the irony of the circumstances that people of Pakistan waited for twenty-three years to elect their representatives through their direct vote. Meanwhile in India new Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) had come into being in very start. The first direct elections for National Assembly of Pakistan were held in 1970 and proved to be the last elections of United Pakistan. The first directly elected Parliament of Pakistan was bound to formulate a new constitution within 120 days. In case of failure in adherence to this provision, the Assembly was threatened to be dissolved. The background of this binding was comprised of the bitter experiences during first parliamentary phase (1947-1958) when constitution making process took 3139 days to complete but the constitution that came into being after prolonged efforts lived only for 924 days.

Twenty-five political parties were functioning when Pakistan had its first general election in 1970. This shows that the people of this land are politically motivated and liked the democratic process if they got the chance to express their opinion independently. Owing to non-recognition of election results the circumstances in East Pakistan deteriorated to such an extent that it was separated from the rest of Pakistan. In such indistinct conditions, a new parliamentary phase in Pakistan took its start. The Legal Framework Order, imposed by a dictator gave birth to a newly elected assembly. The National Assembly went through different experiments. For instance, the bill that gave birth to this assembly was not passed by any assembly but the constitution that was passed by this assembly is enforced even today and is generally accepted document of the state of Pakistan. The Assembly started to function under the presidential system but after the adoption of the Constitution of 1973 the parliamentary system was experimented. It started as a unicameral legislature but changed into the bi-cameral legislature. Assembly itself extended its term but declared new election even before the end of that extended term. These experiments were about to decide future course of action and today, even after 47 years of the enforcement of Constitution of 1973 the bicameral legislature is functioning successfully.

The struggle of constitution-making in reflection of the wishes of people forms a significant step in the history of nations. It is considered specifically significant when an elected constituent institution of the nation quite independently formulates the constitution of the country. There is a famous dictum that to maintain the success intact is the real success. The constitution that the fifth parliament of Pakistan shaped in 1973 could be called a great success owing to its being close to the wishes of the public. The real standard of success of this parliament can only be assessed during the stage of its enforcement after its formulation.

In the counties like Pakistan where the journey to democracy has passed from troublesome stages, the relation of the parliament with other institutions of state has a story of crisscross. The relationship between executive-parliament, the military-parliament, judiciary-parliament interlinks, and mutual collaboration of parliamentarians an interesting phenomenon of our parliamentary history. The discussion on the relationship between institutions leads to the scenario in which the army had to take over the control and country had to see four martial law regimes in its history.

The history of parliament reflects that the parliamentary institution in Pakistan could never be empowered in true sense. The desire to strengthen the parliamentary democracy can only be fulfilled if parliament gets its proper place in political system of Pakistan.

[Professor Dr. Mahboob Hussain is the author of ‘The Parliament of Pakistan]