The Legal Framework Order, 1970 (LFO) was a decree issued by then-President of Pakistan Gen. Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan that laid down the political principles and laws governing the 1970 general election, which were the first direct elections in the history of Pakistan. The LFO also dissolved the "One Unit" scheme of West Pakistan, re-establishing the four provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and the Northwest Frontier Province. Pakistan would be a democratic country and the complete name of the country would be Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Gen. Yahya Khan had taken over from his predecessor President Ayub Khan with the purpose of restoring law and order in Pakistan that had deteriorated in the final days of Ayub's regime. Yahya promised to transition the country to democracy and promised to hold direct elections for that purpose. However, Gen. Yahya also had to decide on how the two wings of the country, East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) and West Pakistan would be represented. Although geographically smaller and separated from West Pakistan by the whole width of India, East Pakistan (also known as East Bengal) consisted of more than half the national population and was predominantly inhabited by Bengali people. Allegations of ethnic discrimination and lack of representation had caused turmoil and conflict between the two wings of Pakistan. The Awami League, the largest political party in East Pakistan, espoused Bengali nationalism and sought greater autonomy for the province, which most West Pakistanis saw as secessionist.
Yahya Khan held talks with East Pakistan's Governor, Vice-Admiral Ahsan, and concluded that Sheikh Mujib would soften his demands after the election. Yahya instituted the Legal Framework Order (LFO) on March 30, 1970, with the aim to secure the future constitution.
The LFO called for direct elections for a unicameral legislature, the National Assembly of Pakistan. The LFO decreed that the assembly would be composed of 313 seats. Departing from the precedent of the 1956 Constitution of Pakistan, which stipulated for parity between the two wings, the LFO called for proportional representation, giving the more populous East Pakistan 169 seats in turn for West Pakistan's 144. The LFO stipulated that the National Assembly would have to create a new constitution for the state of Pakistan within 120 days of being convened, but reserved the right of approving the Constitution to the President and left the rules of the process in the hands of the new assembly to come. New elections would be called if the Assembly failed to come to an agreement in 120 days - all formulations and agreements proposed by political parties would require "authentication" by the president. The LFO also dissolved the "One Unit scheme", which had combined the four provinces of the western wing to constitute the political unit of West Pakistan.
The LFO also stipulated that the future Constitution was to include five principles.
The LFO met a long-standing demand of Bengalis by accepting proportional representation, to the chagrin of many West Pakistanis who resisted the notion of an East Pakistani-led government. Many East Pakistanis criticised the LFO's reservation for the President the power to authenticate the Constitution. Yahya Khan assured Bengalis that this was only a procedural formality and necessary for the democratisation of the country. Yahya Khan ignored reports from the intelligence agencies about the increase in Indian influence in East Pakistan and that Mujib intended to tear up the LFO after the elections.
Contrary to Yahya Khan's opinion that the Awami League would not win the elections in the East wing, the Awami League won all but two seats from East Pakistan, gaining a majority in the National Assembly and thus not needing the support of any West Pakistani political party. As the LFO had not laid down any rules for the process of writing a constitution, an Awami League-controlled government would oversee the passage of a new constitution with a simple majority. The Pakistan Peoples Party of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, which had emerged as the largest political party in West Pakistan, declared it would boycott the new legislature, which severely aggravated tensions. After the failure of talks, Gen. Yahya postponed the convening of the legislature, a decision that provoked outright rebellion in East Pakistan and consequently led to the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.
When this duly arrived. the western wing's nightmare scenario materialised: either a constitutional deadlock, or the imposition in the whole of the country of the Bengalis' longstanding commitment to unfettered democracy and provincial autonomy. Yahya had made some provision to safeguard the constitutional outcome through the promulgation of the Legal Framework Order (LFO) on 30 March 1970.
The LFO laid down that the future National Assembly which would also frame the constitution should consist of 313 members of whom 169 would be from East Pakistan.
The constitution it produced could only pass into law if it was authenticated by the President...It set a deadline of 120 days for the framing of a constitution by the National Assembly and reserved to the President the right to authenticate it.
It would also have to enshrine the following five principles: an Islamic ideology in which the Head of State should be a Muslim; free periodical federal and provincial elections based on population and on universal adult franchise; the independence of the judiciary along with the guarantee of the fundamental rights of the citizens; the provision of maximum provincial autonomy in a federal system which would provide adequate powers to the Central Government to enable it to discharge its responsibilities in relation to external and internal affairs and the preservation of the territorial integrity of the country; full opportunities to the people of all regions to participate in national affairs together with the removal by statutory and other measures in a specified period of economic and other disparities between provinces and regions.
The President's power of authentication was criticised in East Pakistan but Yahya sought to allay fears during a visit to Dhaka early in April. He dismissed this as a 'procedural formality' and maintained that he was 'not doing all this for fun' but was earnest in his pledge to restore democracy.
He also refused to countenance intelligence service reports both of Mujib's aim to tear up the LFO after the elections and establish Bangladesh and of India's growing involvement in the affairs of East Pakistan.
From November 1969 until the announcement of the national election results, he discounted the possibility of an Awami League landslide in East Pakistan.