Government in Pakistan

Written by

November 1, 2013

Pakistan’s system of government, like most, is complicated. Unfortunately there is no Pakistani School House Rock to break it down, so I have done my best to make it a little easier to digest.
The government is characterized as a parliamentary democratic republic, a category they share with many nations, including Germany, Ireland, and Switzerland. The government is established by the Constitution of Pakistan and, like the U.S. government, is composed of three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. In addition to the federal government, Pakistan also employs provincial governments for each of its four provinces.

Pakistan's Legislative Branch

The Legislative Branch

Pakistan’s legislative branch is a bicameral Parliament, officially termed Majlis-i-Shoora. The first of Parliament’s two houses is the National Assembly (also known as the lower house) and has 342 members, including 60 seats that are reserved for women and 10 that are reserved for non-Muslims.
The Senate
(also known as the upper house) is made up of 104 members with seventeen seats reserved for women and four for non-Muslims.

The seats for both houses are split between the four provinces, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and Federal Capital. The National Assembly is divided according to population, while the Senate offers a set number of seats for each group for each: 23 per province, eight for the FATA, and four for the Federal Capital. National Assembly members are elected by voters 18 years of age or older, and Senate members are elected by their respective provincial assemblies.


The Executive Branch

The executive branch in Pakistan is made up of the Prime Minister and the President. The Prime Minister is the head of government in Pakistan. The President, on the other hand, is a ceremonial head of state with fewer responsibilities. Pakistan's Legislative Branch

The Prime Minister is elected by members of the National Assembly, not long after those members are elected by the Pakistani people. The candidates are members of the Assembly and are nominated by fellow Assembly members. While there are many political parties in Pakistan, and many of them hold Assembly seats, they do not all have candidates in the Prime Minister elections. Even in elections where there are many nominees, generally only one or two, typically those from larger parties, hold a chance of winning the election. Once elected, the Prime Minster serves a five-year term. The Prime Minister can be re-elected, and there is no limit on how many times one can hold this position. In fact, Pakistan’s current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is serving his third inconsecutive term, though he didn’t complete his first two.

Once elected, the Prime Minister is tasked with appointing a federal Council of Ministers. These positions can be filled by both National Assembly members and Senate members. There are ministers for a number of functions, including water and power, science and technology, petroleum and natural resources, railways and more. These ministers play an important role in Pakistan’s government, assisting the Prime Minister throughout his or her term.

The President is elected a couple months after the Prime Minister by an electoral college consisting of members of the Senate, the National Assembly and the Provincial Assemblies. The President must be a Muslim and at least 45 years old. The President serves a five-year term and can be re-elected, though nobody can hold the position for more than two consecutive terms. Though President is mostly a ceremonial position, it does have its responsibilities, including appointing the chief justice and remaining judges of the Supreme Court. However, most of the president’s actions follow advice from the Prime Minister.

Pakistan's Judicial Branch

The Judicial Branch

Pakistan’s judicial system includes a Supreme Court, Provincial High Courts, Session Courts, Magistrate Courts and other special courts and tribunals. Additionally, there is a Federal Shariat Court in Pakistan. The Magistrate Courts try all non-capital offenses, and their verdicts can be appealed to the Session Courts or the High Courts, depending on the circumstances. Sessions Courts try all offenses, including capital cases, and hear appeals from the Magistrate Courts. Session Court verdicts can be appealed to the High Courts. Special courts and tribunals exist for various criminal matters, including corruption, banking offenses and drugs. Those convicted can appeal to the high courts. The High Courts hear various appeals from the lower courts, and the Supreme Court, consisting of 16 justices, hears appeals on criminal matters from the High Courts. The Federal Shariat Court, consisting of eight Muslim judges, decides if any law is against the laws of Islam.


Provincial Governments

Each of Pakistan’s four provinces enjoy quite a bit of autonomy.
Map with Pakistan's 4 provinces

They each have their own governor, a Council of Ministers and a provincial assembly. The President aPakistan's Provincial Government ppoints each province’s governor. The Chief Minister, who heads the province’s Council of Ministers, is elected by the Provincial Assembly. The Chief Minister appoints the remaining ministers on the council, who are also members of the Provincial Assembly. Members of the provincial assemblies are elected by general elections. Similar to the National Assembly, each of these assemblies has seats reserved for minorities. These assemblies’ responsibilities differ from those of the National Assembly, but they are still important. The provincial assemblies typically provide services in areas such as education, health, agriculture and roads, among others. The federal government can provide legislation in these areas as well, but it only provides national policies and handles international aspects of such services.


Pakistan clearly has a pretty intricate government system, with many positions and roles, each holding varying levels of importance. There are some similarities between the United States and Pakistani governments, though many differences exist as well. For example, the three-branch system is similar, but the fact that Pakistan has both a Prime Minister and President is quite different. It is certainly interesting to see how the Pakistani government is organized, and doing so helps provide a better view of Pakistani life.