Good governance, rule of law and the presidential system

The current parliamentary configuration of Pakistan's politics is wholly responsible for the sliding standards of governance in Pakistan, argues an accomplished, Harvard educated Pakistani lawyer. He posits that moving towards a presidential system can help alleviate many issues of justice and equity.

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Ancient Greek history is full of mythical fables with moral lessons. Pakistan’s dalliance with ‘rule of law’ always makes me recall the Sisyphean ordeal in Greek mythology.

Sisyphus was the King of Corinth and an evil character. He challenged the authority of gods by cheating death, thereby disturbing the cosmic order. As punishment, Zeus, the king of gods, condemned Sisyphus to an eternal punishment: he would ceaselessly roll a large rock up a hill, whereafter it would roll back on its own weight. Sisyphus would thus continue to toil forever. Sisyphean punishment has come to signify endless suffering.

Although drawing a parallel between rule of law in Pakistan and Sisyphus (a vile mythical creature no less) would seem misplaced, the idea is to drive home the point that Pakistan’s tryst with the rule of law, too, has been a never-ending Sisyphean ordeal.

What is rule of law?

What exactly is ‘rule of law’? The concept derives from Western liberal philosophy. In a nutshell, it means ‘a government of laws, not of men’.  It requires institutions to be accountable to the law, separation of powers between the three branches of government (i.e. the executive, legislature and judiciary) and provision of justice to the common man. Rule of law has acquired various shades of meaning in Pakistan, such as ‘supremacy of the law’, ‘writ of the state’, ‘fundamental rights’ etc. But in reality, the rule of law has come to signify our collective failings.

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Pakistan has one of the most inefficient and inhumane justice systems in the world – proclamations of equal justice for all are lies. Political thought has become corroded.  Judges have ceased to be the voice of reason. Institutions have become devoid of meaning.  Lawyers have become persistent violators of law. Our entire existence is being exerted towards accomplishing nothing.

Is it not time that we had a conception of justice that works in an inherently unjust society such as ours?

What prevents justice from being served?

In order for any legal system, to be effective, it requires good governance. In Pakistan, the parliamentary system of government has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the way of an efficient legal system and implementation of the rule of law. Our parliament has become a farce. Parliamentarians who belong to the privileged class act as power brokers and are only concerned with keeping themselves entrenched in power. Hardly any meaningful legislation is passed by parliament. We are left with a rubber stamp institution that no longer represents the ‘will of the people’.

Read more: The Electoral system of Uzbekistan is better than Pakistan

Our judicial system is archaic. Judges are mostly the product of a below-par education system where out of the box thinking is discouraged. Over the years, judges have become ‘lawmakers’ insofar as they run the affairs of the government. This ‘law-making’ has disturbed our constitutional balance of power and paralysed governance.

Poor governance, over time, has transformed into a lack of governance. The state is merely a bystander as bureaucracy sabotages policy proposals. There is a mafia in every institution (public and private) which exploits and blackmails. The net result is that we are stuck in a status quo and getting deeper in the quagmire.

Fixing lack of good governance and rule of law

What is our best hope? A presidential system or form of government.

Unlike a parliamentary system which is hostage to vested interests and mafias, a presidential system with an honest leader atop can pave the way for good governance in Pakistan and remove bottlenecks in administration. This form of government will be anathema to power brokers and vested interests as they will be unable to exploit the marginalized segments of society. It is our chance to drain the swamp of cronyism and nepotism that has eaten away the fabric of our society.

A presidential system would provide ‘irrevocable fixed terms for executive and legislature’. Political mafias would, therefore, be unable to threaten the stability of the government by holding a gun to its head. It would also provide the much needed separation of powers between the three branches of government and a proper system of checks and balances.  Decisions can be taken with speed and decisiveness. There would be a ‘depoliticizing of administration’ and the country can finally hope for good governance and rule of law.

Those in favour of a parliamentary system claim that it is the only hope for a divided society like Pakistan that is facing serious challenges due to ‘ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural differences’. This is a fallacy – Pakistan is not a divided society. Rather, divisions in our society are intentionally perpetrated by vested interests to ‘divide and rule’.

Read more: Threats to Parliamentary system & possible solutions

A presidential form of government can also provide Pakistan with an opportunity to adopt a welfare state model that guarantees distributional consistency of individual and collective rights. With good governance, we can also hope for the rule of law that reflects our society’s ethical, moral and social needs. Rule of law takes root in societies where justice and equality are guaranteed to the common man. Law seldom commands obedience because of its goodness. Rather, respect for law lies in its power to unleash ‘violence’ against the lawbreakers.

For 72 odd years, Pakistan has been a perfect case study in mismanagement and blunders.  We have lost crucial time that could have been spent towards establishing good governance and rule of law. By adopting a presidential system, Pakistan can make up for lost time and finally take concrete positive steps towards the betterment of its people. Time is running out. We must act fast.

Hassan Aslam Shad is the head of practice of a leading Middle Eastern law firm. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, U.S.A., with a focus on international law and corporate law. Hassan has the distinctive honour of being the first person from Pakistan to intern at the Office of the President of the International Criminal Court, The Hague. He can be reached at: His Twitter handle is: @HassShad. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.




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