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The Constitution of 1973  of  Pakistan envisaged a parliamentary system of government, with the balance of power tilted favorably towards the Prime Minister. The President could not exercise his powers without the concurrence of the Prime Minister. The 8th Constitutional Amendment, however, altered the form of the Constitution drastically. Passed by the Senate on November 14, 1985, the 8th Amendment tampered with almost 19 clauses of the Constitution and brought the office of the President of Pakistan almost at par with that of the Prime Minister.

The President was given the right to nominate the Prime Minister, governors of the provinces, judges of the High and Supreme Courts including the Chief Justice. Thus, the democratically elected Prime Minister became subservient to the President.

The President was to act on the advice of the Prime Minister. He was empowered to use his unlimited constitutional powers and was liable to be counseled by the Premier. The President had the power to be informed about the decisions relating to the administrative affairs of the federation and proposals of legislation. The President could ask the Prime Minister to get a vote of confidence from the Assembly, issue ordinances, set date for the elections for the National Assembly and appoint caretaker government. The President had power of appointing service chiefs and other important federal officers. He could also call a referendum on an issue of great importance.

President Ghulam Ishaq Khan exercised his power under the 8th Amendment to dismiss Benazir Bhutto in 1990, and Nawaz Sharif in 1993

However, the most controversial power awarded to the office of the President was under the Article 58(2) b, which was the power of the dissolution of the National Assembly on his own discretion.

According to the proponents of this clause, due to Post-Constitutional deadlocks in the country, it was necessary to vest this authority in the President so that in case of a political crisis the Assembly could be dissolved and new elections could be held and a Martial Law could be avoided. The Article 58(2) b changed the entire complexion of the constitution .The constitution was transformed from a Parliamentary system into a Presidential one. This amendment was like the proverbial sword of Damocles for the successive governments. On four occasions since the passing of 58(2) b the National Assemblies were dissolved. However, the dissolution of the Assembly by President Zia-ul-Haq in 1988, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1990 and in 1993, and President Farooq Leghari in 1996, are subject to a lot of speculation. Other clauses amended by the 8th Amendment dealt with the office of the Prime Minister, Senate, and Governors. The Article 51 increased the number of the National Assembly seats to 207 from 200. The number of the Senate seats were increased to 87 from 63 under Article 59. The 8th Amendment also indemnified the entire Presidentís orders, ordinances, martial law regulations, martial law orders, including the referendum orders made between July 5, 1977 and September 13, 1985.

Eighth Amendment is considered as a landmark in the Constitutional history of Pakistan. It had not only altered the very form of the Constitution, from purely Parliamentary to semi-Presidential but has also changed the constitutional and political history of the country.

 


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