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9 Leaders' statement on Constitution

On 1 March 1962, President General Ayub Khan introduced a new constitution. Martial Law was lifted on 8 June 1962 when the new National Assembly met in Rawalpindi. The following statement on the Constitution appeared in Pakistan Observer a few weeks later, on June 25, 1962

Nine Leaders’ Statement

June 24, 1962

Signatories : Messrs Nurul Amin, Ataur Rahman Khan, Hamidul Huq Chowdhury, Abu Husain Sarkar, Mahmud Ali, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Yusuf Ali Chowdhury, Pir Mohsenuddin.

Rule by Martial Law has at last been ended. The political gloom that enveloped the country for long 45 months has been partially lifted. Door of progress towards a democratic system seems to be in the process of opening but democracy has yet to come. The Constitution promulgated by Field Martial Ayub Khan only holds out a hope but does not usher it.

The main subject that agitates public mind deeply today is again the Constitution of the country. This was the main topic during the recent elections though the election was limited to a small section of the people. Practically every candidate pledged his support for getting a democratic Constitution. During the last six weeks since election the volume of opinion for a workable Constitution has increased considerably.

We will go failing in our duty if we do not express ourselves on this vital question through the only means available to us; we believe, in this, we share the opinion held by most in the country.

The country can make real and a biding progress through the method of evolution and by changes peacefully brought about. This can happen only where free debate and free discussion are fully assured.

A durable and abiding Constitution is the precondition for national consolidation and stability.

We are convinced that no durable Constitution can be adopted unless it is framed by the direct representatives of the people.

We say so because: Whatever type of constitution is drawn up, it has to be democratic both in form and spirit. In a democracy, sovereignty belongs to the people. All authority must emanate from the people. Anything to be stable and enduring must in the first place be the expression of the will of the people. That will must be a collective will, an organized will and such as is freely expressed without any let or hindrance, direct or indirect.

A constitution is framed with a view that it endures the vicissitudes of time, for as long as human intelligence and foresight can see, capable of meeting all situations and contingencies as can be predicted. Each and every constitution must have such basic qualities as would make it permanent. Such basic laws cease to be basic if there are stresses and strains within it which in time are bound to blow it to pieces.

To have the character and quality of permanence of the will and judgment of the entire community a set of laws possessing such character alone can evoke the emotional loyalty of this generation to come. Such loyalty and emotion are its strongest buttress and its impregnable defence. A document which depends on external forces other than the will of the people will have no chance of popular support when in jeopardy.

The present constitution lacks the basic strength stated above viz, popular consensus enshrined in basic laws framed by the peoples’ representatives entrusted with that mandate; and this without reference to its other merits.

Besides, the present document is framed on a distrust of popular will, whatever be the justification put forward for that. A body of 80 thousand electors have been provided for as the base of the system in a population of more than 80 million.

The Assemblies created on the vote of these electors have practically been given no power to decide anything. Nothing can be done by these bodies unless the President agrees. Whereas the President after the initial start, can rule without any agreement of the Assembly both in the legislative and in the executive fields.

Experience of barely three weeks’ working have already demonstrated that the present scheme is unworkable unless it is radically remodeled and changed.

It is impossible to expect any genuine cooperation between the Government and the Assemblies on the present basis. The members will be tempted only to demonstrate their usefulness by turning to acute and extreme critic of the Government as they have neither any power of shaping directly the policy of the Government nor its activities. The distrust will spread into the country rendering Government more unpopular. Men of ability and independence will hardly be attracted to join such Government and administration will completely pass into the dead and soulless hands of bureaucracy.

We, therefore, urge that steps be taken to have a special body elected as soon as possible to give the people of a suitable constitution.

With all the materials on the subject that have accumulated during the last 15 years, a Constitution can be hammered out as will be suitable and will meet the peculiar problems of this country in the course of six months at the longest.

In the circumstances of the above recommendations we purposely do not enter into the question as to whether the Constitution to be so framed should be of the Presidential type or Parliamentary type. We are conscious that by far the largest volume of opinion is for the Parliamentary form, the reasons are historical; our long association and experiences of the working of this system predisposes us to it.

Similarly we need hardly say much over the question whether its should be federal or unitary in character. This question is not very controversial either. More or less it is accepted by all shades of opinion, that it has to be federal with a majority of subjects being with the units particularly in view of our peculiar geography.

The other burning topic to be dealt with is the glowing imbalance in the economic progress in the two wings. We believe that there is no want of good will in the people of West Pakistan and East Pakistan for each other. Public men once entrusted with real responsibility are bound to rise above all narrowness and are sure to concentrate on developing the economy of the country as a whole giving greater attention to the backward areas wherever they are.

All narrow and parochial interests that are responsible for the unequal progress of the two wings had free play as the people had very little say in the policy-making of the state so long. Once public opinion can assert itself through the elected representatives all reactionary forces and vested interests will be in the retreat. Much of the disparities between the wings have arisen out of the facts that East Pakistan had rarely shared effective political power in the country’s policy-making particularly on economic affairs and scarcely has or had a say in the executive organizations responsible for carrying out of the economic policies into practice.

In fact since independence all political powers were concentrated into the hands of a small group of permanent services, there having been not one single election in the country by which the people could have a say in the country’s affairs.

The next important matter of consideration is what needs be done during the interim period.

The good-will generated by the lifting of the Martial Law needs to be strengthened by further statesmanlike acts. The distance between the people and the organs of administration should not be allowed to grow. It is a great responsibility for President Ayub Khan and we have every hope that it is fully appreciated.

Pending the adoption of a permanent Constitution by the method proposed by us, the Government of the country has to be carried on.

But even in the interim period some essential changes need be made in the document under which the Government is being carried on.

It is necessary that Fundamental rights as enumerated in the 1956 Constitution be incorporated as such in the present Constitution, and made justiciable, instead of enumerating them as "principles of law-making" as in the present document.

This can be easily incorporated in the present document either by Presidential Order or through the legislative process as provided for in the Constitution.

What is more necessary is that the executive should trust the Assemblies brought under existence under this Constitution. All temptation, to fill the house with persons holding office of profit should be checked. Otherwise whatever little freedom the House have will vanish. We should not forget that trust begets trust.

Political Prisoners detained without trial should be set as liberty to restore an atmosphere of confidence in the country and all penal actions regarding politicians should be done away with.

Political parties are the very breath of representative democracies. As life without breath is unthinkable so the elective system without the disciplined parties is unworkable. Party means discipline. No representative body can function with a large body of individuals without any kind of ties binding them and controlling their conduct and behaviour within and without no obligation except that of self-in it.

Source: Documents and Speeches on the Constitution of Pakistan
By G. W. Choudhury (1967). Green Book House, Dacca (East Pakistan)

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