Between the Cup and the Lip

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Between the Cup and the Lip


Not a single prime minister in the country’s 75-year history has completed the five-year term

During the past twenty years, the National Assemblies in Pakistan have been completing their terms. However, none of the eight Prime Ministers during the past two decades were able to complete their respective terms as they were either removed or had to resign, one way or the other. In that, the eight prime ministers met a similar fate that all their predecessors did. It is indeed, an astonishing fact that not a single prime minister in Pakistan’s 75-year history has completed his or her five-year term.

Another bit of coincidence is that whenever during the past two decades a prime minister left his post, the one who replaced him or her belonged to the same party. Therefore, this is the first instance in almost two decades when an opposition leader (Shehbaz Sharif) has taken over as prime minister.

Following the success of the no-confidence motion April 9, Prime Minister Imran Khan stepped down and was replaced by opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif as the new Leader of the House. Similarly, former Prime Minister Imran Khan will now become the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly.

A similar scenario occurred in the 2008 National Assembly when the PML-N split up from the then ruling PPP. As result of that, the PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi had to resign as Leader of the Opposition and was replaced by the ruling coalition, the Opposition Party. PML-N on the basis of its numerical majority, then appointed Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan as Leader of the Opposition.

Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who left the post of Leader of the Opposition in the early days of the National Assembly in 2008, joined the Federal Cabinet in the last days of the National Assembly and became the Deputy Prime Minister of the country.  Forty years after the enactment of the 1973 constitution, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi was the first politician to be made Deputy Prime Minister.


Earlier, Nusrat Bhutto, the widow of former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was a senior minister in the federal cabinet when Benazir Bhutto took over as prime minister in 1988. In the 2013 general elections, two members of the same cabinet contested from their home state of Gujarat. In this election campaign, the Deputy Prime Minister defeated the Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar.

The National Assembly which was formed in 2002 under former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf, went on to become the first assembly in 30 years to complete its term. However, even that National Assembly elected three prime ministers during that time.

In the 2002 National Assembly, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, a prominent politician from Balochistan, was elected Prime Minister. He had earlier served as the Chief Minister of Balochistan under General Zia-ul-Haq’s Martial Law and became the first politician from Balochistan to be appointed as Prime Minister. However, he, could not complete his term and resigned.

After Jamali’s resignation, PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was made the Prime Minister for a short period of three months. But as soon as Senator Shaukat Aziz won the National Assembly seat from Attock, he was inducted as the new prime minister. Aziz remained Prime Minister till the end of the term of the National Assembly. Then President Musharraf dissolved the National Assembly for new elections.

Five years later, when the new National Assembly was elected in 2008, it also completed its term like the previous National Assembly. But this time, too, the Prime Minister could not accomplish his five-year constitutional term. This time the National Assembly elected two leaders instead of three.

The PPP came to power for the fifth time as a result of the general election, and the former Speaker National Assembly Yousuf Raza Gilani from Multan became the Prime Minister. He was the second speaker to reach the post of prime minister after Malik Meraj Khalid had served as caretaker prime minister.


Yousuf Raza Gilani was awarded a sentence by the Supreme Court in a contempt of court case for not writing a letter to the Swiss government to reopen graft cases against then president Asif Ali Zardari. Later, he was disqualified from holding the post of Prime Minister. He was also barred from contesting elections for five years. Raja Pervez Ashraf then took over as the new Prime Minister.

The 2013 National Assembly, in keeping with the tradition, completed its term, but like the 2008 National Assembly, it had to elect two prime ministers.

Former PML-N President Nawaz Sharif took over as prime minister for the third time in 2013, but he had to step down after being disqualified by a court ruling, just like Yousuf Raza Gilani. He was replaced by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as the Prime Minister who remained in the PM’s post till the end of his term. Abbasi was the first prime minister of PML-N outside the Sharif family.

In the past, after the 1973 constitution was enacted, seven National Assemblies came into existence but none of them could complete its five year term. The National Assembly, formed in 1973, was dissolved by former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto almost three years later and announced fresh elections. As a result of the elections he returned to power. Opposition parties declined to accept the result and launched a massive countrywide protest, resultantly Ziaul Haq imposed the martial law in 1977.

After the restoration of democracy in the country , Ziaul Haq held a non-partisan general election that led to the formation of the National Assembly. But the military dictator, under the infamous Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, dismissed Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo and dissolved the National Assembly.

Benazir Bhutto , the country’s first female prime minister and daughter of founder of the PPP, became prime minister in 1987 , but General Zia-ul-Haq’s successor, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, dissolved the National Assembly after two year by using his power under article 58(2)(b). Ishaq Khan is the only president in the history of the country who exercised his presidential powers to dismiss the assembly twice and even ended the government of Nawaz Sharif like of Benazir Bhutto but the Supreme Court restored Nawaz Sharif and his government. However, due to a tussle between President Ishaq and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, both the President and the Prime Minister had to go home under an agreement on the intervention of the then Army Chief, General Abdul Waheed Kakar.


In 1993, Benazir Bhutto again became the Prime Minister, but her nominee for President, Sardar Farooq Ahmed Khan Laghari, dismissed the Benazir government by exercising the same presidential powers under article 58(2)(b).

When Nawaz Sharif became the Prime Minister for the second time, he finally removed the President’s power to dissolve the National Assembly through a constitutional amendment. But despite doing all this, his government and the National Assembly could not complete their constitutional term and Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf took military action to overthrow both Nawaz Sharif’s government and the National Assembly.

Now yet another prime minister, Imran Khan, has to step down before the end of his term due to the success of the no-confidence motion. He is the first prime minister of the country to be removed from office through a no-confidence motion under the constitution, but it is too early to say whether the current assembly will complete its five-year term next year.


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