The results of the 1985 elections were not what General Ziaul Haq expected — a number of liberals managed to make it to the parliament, while many of his Shura members and ministers were defeated, indicating non-approval of his policies by his friends.
The next step was to find a prime minister in a parliament elected on non-party basis.
Accepting the outcome of the elections but not wanting to loosen his grip over the house, Gen Zia decided to seek legal help. His talented legal advisers, A.K. Brohi and Sharifuddin Pirzada, recommended undertaking a number of constitutional amendments to give him an umbrella. Gen Zia was bent on changing the character of the Constitution from parliamentarian to presidential. For this purpose, a long list of amendments was prepared and without going into details Gen Zia informed his Martial Law Administrators (MLAs) to authorise him to bring the required changes in the constitution for which, according to him, the Supreme Court had empowered him — a reference to the SC verdict in Nusrat Bhutto case on Nov 10, 1977.
On March 2, 1985, he issued The Revival of Constitution of 1973 Order (RCO). It changed 67 clauses and sections of 280 articles of the Constitution — largest number of amendments carried out in one day in the history of Pakistan. The purpose of the amendments was obviously to tailor the Constitution to suit Gen Zia and make him an all powerful president, by concentrating all powers of the parliament in one person.
To strengthen his rule and consolidate power in himself, Gen Zia amended the Constitution through the RCO and introduced the Eighth Amendment
Changing the basic character of the Constitution, the amendments altered the form of political set up from parliamentarian to presidential. Another change was the induction of Islamic provisions which he had pointed to on various occasions and were pronounced as Supreme Law. The most significant was the change of Preamble which reasserted sovereignty of Allah the Almighty in the body of the constitution. Addition of a new article (Article 2) in the Constitution gave Sharia Court the authority to strike out any law which it considered not in conformity with the basic tenets of Islam.
Under the 1973 Constitution the country had a parliamentary form of government with most powers vested in the Prime Minister, while the president was the constitutional head of the state; and that’s what Gen Zia disliked the most. By amendments in the Constitution he gave most of the executive powers to the president who could appoint and remove the prime minister, chiefs of the armed forces, provincial governors, judges of the superior courts, as well as authorised the president to dissolve the National Assembly without consulting the prime minister. The RCO also incorporated the referendum of 1984 which gave Gen Zia legitimacy to continue as president till 1990.
A glance at the amendments reveals the motive behind them. For instance, under the headline “Duties of Prime Minister in relation to President” it said: “It shall be the duty of the Prime Minister to communicate to the President all decisions of the cabinet relating to the administration of the affairs of the Federation and proposal for legislation; to furnish such information relating to the administration of the affairs of the Federation and proposals for legislation as the President may call for. At the commencement of each session of the Parliament the President shall address both houses assembled together.”
Under the headline “Exercise of executive authority of the Federation” it pronounced: the executive authority of the Federation shall vest in the President and shall be executed by him, either directly or through officers according to the Constitution. On the status of ministers and prime minister it said: “There shall be a cabinet of ministers with the Prime Minister at its head to aid and advice the President in the exercise of his powers. The Prime Minister shall hold office during the pleasure of the President.” About the conduct of business of federal government it said that all executive actions of the government shall be expressed to be taken in the name of the president. The president shall make rules for the allocation of and transaction of the Federal government.
The RCO also outlined the powers and limits of the chief ministers and governors. According to it the governor will pick a chief minister from among the members of the assembly, which will be approved by the president. Regarding the duties of chief ministers, the RCO mentioned similar duties for the CMs as were mentioned for the prime minister in relation to the president.
Gen Zia also thought it wise to draw clear lines for legislation — the basic function of the National Assembly. To ensure the continuation of his rule, he had amended the Constitution through the RCO but it needed a proper constitutional protection which was brought about in the form of the Eighth Amendment.
As advised by his legal consultants, Gen Zia sought constitutional cover for the decisions he took after he became Chief Martial Law Administrator and President; the RCO gave constitutional protection to all his presidential orders, martial law regulations and other actions taken by martial law authorities from July 5, 1977.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 16th, 2015