Pakistan’s independence was won through a democratic and constitutional struggle. The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 provides for a federal parliamentary system with a president as head of state and a popularly elected prime minister as head of government.

President

The president, in keeping with the constitutional provision that the state religion is Islam, must be a Muslim. Elected for a five-year term by an electoral college consisting of members of the Senate and National Assembly and members of the provincial assemblies, the president is eligible for reelection. But no individual may hold the office for more than two consecutive terms. The president may resign or be impeached and may be removed from office for incapacity or gross misconduct by a two-thirds vote of the members of the parliament.

Parliament and Federal Government

The bicameral federal legislature is the Majlis-i-Shoora (Council of Advisers), consisting of the Senate (upper house) and National Assembly (lower house). Members of the National Assembly are elected by universal adult suffrage (over eighteen years of age in Pakistan). Seats are allocated to each of the four provinces, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and Islamabad Capital Territory on the basis of population. National Assembly members serve for the parliamentary term, which is five years, unless they die or resign sooner, or unless the National Assembly is dissolved. Although the vast majority of the members are Muslim, about 5 percent of the seats are reserved for minorities, including Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs. Elections for minority seats are held on the basis of joint electorates at the same time as the polls for Muslim seats during the general elections.

The prime minister is appointed by the president from among the members of the National Assembly. The prime minister is assisted by the Federal Cabinet, a council of ministers whose members are appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister. The Federal Cabinet comprises the ministers, ministers of state, and advisers.

The Senate is a permanent legislative body with equal representation from each of the four provinces, elected by the members of their respective provincial assemblies. There are representatives from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and from Islamabad Capital Territory. The chairman of the Senate, under the constitution, is next in line to act as president should the office become vacant and until such time as a new president can be formally elected. Both the Senate and the National Assembly can initiate and pass legislation except for finance bills. Only the National Assembly can approve the federal budget and all finance bills. In the case of other bills, the president may prevent passage unless the legislature in joint sitting overrules the president by a majority of members of both houses present and voting.

Other offices and bodies having important roles in the federal structure include the attorney general, the auditor general, the Federal Land Commission, the Federal Public Service Commission, Election Commission of Pakistan, and the Wafaqi Mohtasib (Ombudsman).

Provincial Governments

Pakistan’s provinces enjoy considerable autonomy. Each province has a governor, a Council of Ministers headed by a chief minister appointed by the governor, and a provincial assembly. Members of the provincial assemblies are elected by universal adult suffrage. Provincial assemblies also have reserved seats for minorities. Although there is a well-defined division of responsibilities between federal and provincial governments, there are some functions on which both can make laws and establish departments for their execution. Most of the services in areas such as health, education, agriculture, and roads, for example, are provided by the provincial governments. Although the federal government can also legislate in these areas, it only makes national policy and handles international aspects of those services.

Judiciary

The judiciary includes the Supreme Court, provincial high courts, and other lower courts exercising civil and criminal jurisdiction. The chief justice of the Supreme Court is appointed by the president; the other Supreme Court judges are appointed by the president after consultation with the chief justice. The chief justice and judges of the Supreme Court may remain in office until age sixty-five. The Supreme Court has original, appellate, and advisory jurisdiction. Judges of the provincial high courts are appointed by the president after consultation with the chief justice of the Supreme Court, as well as the governor of the province and the chief justice of the high court to which the appointment is being made. High courts have original and appellate jurisdiction.