Ceremonial governors or political agents

Published: May 22, 2020


PHOTO: REUTERS The writer is a senior political economist based in Islamabad

Very few readers can name the Governor of Balochistan. But everyone and Jan Mangu know about Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar of Punjab, Imran Ismail of Sindh and Shah Farman of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). The reason is that the Balochistan Governor, Justice (retd) Amanullah Khan Yasinzai, neither has a political background nor seems to act politically. Just google any three of the names and you find them lecturing the public as well as its representatives on matters largely political. And why not? Governor Punjab has been in the British parliament, and the Senate of Pakistan as a party ticket holder. He is popular with TV anchors as a willing expositor of the delicate balance of the political coalition in Punjab. This, however, is only a fraction of his political activity. Governor Sindh was a party activist and MPA. His hyper activism in the realm of politics confused even a paper like Dawn when a recent headline announced: “Sindh Governor Imran Ismail Becomes Latest Politician to Test Positive for Coronavirus.” Shah Farman of K-P was elected twice to the provincial assembly on Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) ticket and held cabinet positions as well.

In their oath, the governors do solemnly swear that they will discharge duties and perform functions in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Now the Constitution envisages only a ceremonial role for the governors. Let alone a formal role, there is nothing in the Constitution that can be interpreted even remotely as political in the performance of their functions. Article 101(2) regarding the appointment of the governor states that a “person shall not be appointed a Governor unless he is qualified to be elected as member of the National Assembly and is not less than thirty-five years of age.” According to Article 103(2), “The Governor shall not be a candidate for election as a member of Parliament or a Provincial Assembly and, if a member of Parliament or a Provincial Assembly is appointed as Governor, his seat in Parliament or, as the case may be, the Provincial Assembly shall become vacant on the day he enters upon his office.” In other words, any politician can be the governor so long as he/she resigns from the political office. Although meant to lay down for the governor the same eligibility criteria as that for an elected member, other than age, the article also makes a most difficult assumption that the political being can transform oneself into an apolitical being overnight. Article 104 regarding the “Speaker Provincial Assembly to act as, or perform functions of Governor in his absence” gives a political dimension to the office of the Governor. The Speaker is from a political party. He/she is expected to remain neutral between the government and the opposition, without ceasing to be a political being.

In a federal structure, there is always the possibility of people choosing different parties to rule at federal and provincial levels. The appointment of politically oriented governors becomes particularly problematic in these situations. The governor tries, or is forced from above, to assume the role of a political agent from the colonial days. Our experience is that appointing politicians to governorship always breeds conflict, even when the same party rules at the Centre and the province. It is only worse when the parties are different. There is merit in resuming the old practice of appointing retired civil/military/judicial officers, or recognise distinguished members of civil society, professions and minorities. If an amendment to the Constitution is needed, this is the one.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2020.

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