In last week’s article in this space, I wrote about two aspects of political transformation in different parts of the Muslim world. In some of these, the political systems are moving away from authoritarianism and going towards some form of democracy. I suggested that in determining the role of Islam and the military in politics, Turkey and Pakistan have gone further than Arab nations also involved in making the transition. However, in neither of these two non-Arab Muslim nations has there been a clear indication as to where the executive authority should reside. Both Pakistan and Turkey are, on paper, parliamentary democracies. However, the person who controls the governing party holds the reins of power.
In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has the executive power because that is where the Constitution places it. Turkey’s current basic law was written by the generals when they were in power. Although they gave the state’s executive authority to the prime minister, they kept enough power for themselves to keep a close watch on the performance of the civilian leader. The generals did not hesitate to intervene if they believed that the people’s elected representatives were acting against the basic principles of governance laid down by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The political predecessor of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party was removed from power when the generals felt that the secular foundations of the Turkish state were being compromised. Erdogan used the power of the ballot box to ultimately bring the military establishment under civilian control. Three electoral victories, each with increasing popular support, gave him the confidence to move the generals back to their barracks. In his latest term in office, he felt powerful enough to put some generals on trial, even to send some of them to prison for plotting to take over control from the civilian government.
Erdogan having indicated that he will not serve another term as prime minister after completing his current tenure is contemplating a move to the presidency. He will do so if he is able to change the Constitution and create a quasi-presidential system.
In Pakistan, a different kind of ambiguity exists. The Constitution of 1973 was clear in giving full executive authority to the prime minister. This was the reason that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the principal author of the new basic law, stepped down as president and became the first prime minister under the 1973 dispensation. Even while taking that step, he continued to involve himself in some trappings of the office he had given up. For instance, he kept taking the stage along with the president to receive the salute from the military in the march past to celebrate the Pakistan Day.
The Pakistani Constitution was put through some massive distortions by two military leaders who succeeded Bhutto. Both Generals Ziaul Haq and (retd) Pervez Musharraf inserted clauses in the Constitution through amendments that gave the ultimate authority to the president on most important state matters. The changes included the infamous Article 58(2b) which gave the president the right to dismiss the prime minister and dissolve the National Assembly. He could do that on a variety of grounds. These were not hard to justify in the courts when the dismissals were challenged. Four dismissals followed this change to the Constitution, one by General Ziaul Haq, two by president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and one by president Farooq Leghari. Each of these was upheld by the Supreme Court.
The Eighteenth Amendment, passed during the tenure of the current PPP-led government, effectively took the Constitution back to its original 1973 form, restoring the prime minister as the repository of executive authority. However, even after the adoption of this amendment, executive authority has remained with President Asif Ali Zardari. He exercises it not because of the office he holds but because of the chairmanship of the PPP, his political party. That is the basis of his power. The constitutional situation in Pakistan, therefore, has become ambiguous about the positioning of executive authority. Ambiguity is never propitious for orderly political development. In other words, the development of political order in the Muslim world is a work in progress.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 24th, 2012.