Political system of a country is crucially important for organising society and responding to the very needs of the people and provision of an environment which is essential for the social, economic and physical development of the country as well as welfare of the citizens and their personality development.
It is the structure and functions of the political system and its institutions, which condition policies and governance within the state. Therefore, a system of government or political system ought to be meticulously designed so as to be effective and efficient in achieving its very objectives that inter alia include stability of society through ensuring social control; security of the citizens; provision of basic amenities and social services and guaranteeing the fundamental rights of the people; and achieving development in all spheres of human activity.
Pakistan’s Constitution provides for the parliamentary system of government in the country. The country is once again at the crossroads in its largely chequered history whereas the political system despite its relative continuity has generally been unable to fulfil its basic functions and to achieve its fundamental objectives. Therefore, it becomes necessary that as responsible citizens we all must think about the causes of the inability of the existing system and the loopholes and shortcomings within it.
Although it is up to the people to agree what kind of political system the country must have, the dominant majority of politicians and political parties, who claim to be representative of the people, for decades have had considered the parliamentary system the best option for the state and its residents. Consequently, they are against any other political system specifically the alternative presidential system.
The foremost criticism of Pakistani political parties on the presidential system of government has been its ‘undemocratic’ nature. The fact of the matter is that generally the presidential system that is in vogue in many countries of the world like the greatest democracy America and extensively democratic Germany, the presidential system has had proved more democratic than the parliamentary system in place in many countries like the largest democracy India or oldest democracy Great Britain.
There are historical, cultural and personal reasons that our political parties and politicians consider or portray the presidential system as ‘undemocratic’. Firstly, it was the first military ruler, General Ayub Khan, who framed the 1962 Constitution which provided for the presidential system of governance.
But equating the presidential system with the iron-fisted rule of General Ayub Khan and then believing the system to be ‘undemocratic’ is at best naive. Because it was not that the presidential system that conditioned the decisions and behaviour of Ayub Khan rather it was the latter’s conduct and aims which manipulated the system. In simple words, the presidential system did not control General Ayub as is the case in any democracy rather the general kept the system hostage to be of real value.
Secondly, Pakistani political parties and groups’ antagonism to the presidential system of government is because the system does not provide stakes to many or most politicians and their parties in the state power structure. It is the directly-elected personalities of the president and governors in provinces and their respective cabinet members, who wield real power within the state while all other politicians and political parties remain on the sidelines.
The president and governors’ cabinet members ought not to be members of parliament or of provincial assemblies, and could be anyone. Mostly specialists could be part of the government thus compromising the very interest of the politicians. Contrarily, the parliamentary system of government ensures stakes for almost all the political parties and leaders active in the mainstream. Even a party with a couple of seats in parliament could somehow secure for itself a share in cabinet or power corridors.
Here now the fundamental question is that whether Pakistanis could and should ponder over an alternative political system. Against this backdrop, one has to look into the merits of a possible presidential system in the country.
The foremost reason in this regard is that parliamentary politics and system of governance result in polarisation in society and the political system of which the biggest victims are policymaking and governance, and ultimately the people. Noticeably, the parliamentary political system is erected on constituency-based elections and power struggle.
Fundamentally, Pakistan is a traditional, rural and tribal society where constituencies are inhabited by a few families, biradaris (lineage groups) or tribes having historical enmities and feuds. More often than not these different social groups struggle for power at the local level which at times becomes quite violent.
Moreover, the dominant groups at the constituency or local level manipulate the system by intimidating the people. In a presidential system the local groups having personal, familial, tribal interests cannot dominate politics while the local influential persons whether chaudhrys, Khans, nawabs, waderas, wajas, etc cannot dictate the political system. In a presidential system every citizen has an equal chance of becoming a president or a provincial governor.
Then in the presidential system the legislative and executive authority unlike the parliamentary system rests in different state organs. This leads to quality policymaking and governance, the lack of which has kept the Pakistani state largely unresponsive.
Moreover, in the presidential system the chief executive, which in this case is the president, has relative freedom to implement policies and come up with innovative projects and strategies for development and raising the standard of life of the majority of people.
Furthermore, in the presidential system the parochial and separatist-minded political parties and groups do not have any chance to get power. Ethno-linguistic political parties are important in democracy, but if they make the system hostage, as has been the case in Pakistan, then these parties are causes for instability.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 16th, 2019.
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