Where should executive authority reside?

Published: December 23, 2012
The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

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.

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Reader Comments (4)

  • Mirza
    Dec 24, 2012 - 11:09AM

    In most parliamentary democracies the head of the party becomes leader of the house called PM. In addition in most countries the leader of the ruling party always has more power than any of its member. It would be more appropriate such an Op Ed be written by a lawyer who specializes in constitutional law and parliamentary democracy.


  • Foreign Leg
    Dec 24, 2012 - 11:24AM

    Was actually hoping that you would respond to this -> [Providing intellectual cover to General Zia’s sectarian policies by Murtaza Haider][1]

    [1]: http://dawn.com/2012/12/12/providing-intellectual-cover-to-general-zias-sectarian-policies/Recommend

  • Dec 24, 2012 - 1:23PM

    I said this with the last article and I will say it again.

    **Most Muslim Majority countries are doomed to go the Islamic way.**

    Erdogan has an Islamist streak running in him that will only increase in intensity, and end up manifesting itself by introducing Political Islam and turning the character of the system Islamic. Egypt is at that stage now. Muslim Brotherhood came to power saying it was a modern idea. But, its now turning Egypt to a state which is de facto Islamist in nature, with scant consideration to the 10% non-Muslim population.

    Pakistan has already gone through this and has hardly pushed the frontiers of modern ideas. How can a country be based on regressive principles like Two Nation Theory and wed it self to modern ideas such as Democracy?

    If the trend continues, even Turkey, the symbol for liberals in the Muslim world, will become more Islamised, joining, literally, dozens of Muslim Majority countries who are despotic, theocratic or autocratic in nature, but all of them Islamic.

    The reason for all this, though obvious but refused to be debated or even considered, is Islam. Islam is a very political Religion and has regressive laws coded into it such as Sharia. Even a modern state like Malaysia has implemented them and as a result of which Shias are considered to be criminals.Recommend

  • abu-uzhur
    Dec 24, 2012 - 10:24PM

    @Burki Sahib

    Seen from one perspective there has never been any ambiguity about
    location of effective executive power . A remarkable feature of our political
    history since 1947, or even ealier , has been that effective power has always been in the
    hands of individuals . It has been so whether we had a democratic or a dictatorial or
    a democratic-dictatorial political face .
    The main reason lies in our psyche ruled by a powerful archetype
    of Ameer-u-momnin or Saviour . The dictators or authoritarian rulers are less an imposition from above , and more a creation of people looking for salvation .
    What is provided in the constitution regardig the executive power is easily trumped by this
    archetype .


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