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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Should Pakistan experiment with presidential democracy as parliamentary governance fails?

Pakistan needs to finally take a clear and permanent stance on the whether there should be a Presidential form of government or a Parliamentary system.

Pakistan needs what: a presidential or parliamentary form of government? This debate is not a new one. But now, the debate has reached the premises of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

As per facts, two petitions have been moved under article 184(3) of the Constitution, 1973 for seeking means of a referendum to adopting a presidential or parliamentary form of government for Pakistan.

Need for a Presidential system?

The petition presents a deplorable state of conditions in Pakistan. The country has become the sixth most populous country in the world with an estimated population of 212 million people and it may reach 403 million by 2050. With one of the world’s largest youth population, as 64%, the country is ranked as 122nd out of 190 countries in the world in terms of quality and accessibility of health care. As 25% of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line, the average human development index and the GDP are the lowest as compared to other South Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan. And behind all these, one of the chief reasons is Pakistan’s fragile political system. Likewise, it also has been taken as a ground that “in our parliamentary system, members of parliament are in the habit of changing loyalties and are out to blackmail and pressurize the government to promote their interests”.

That is why the current government has to use the power of the president to promulgate ordinance frequently. Premier has also highlighted the legislative obstacles on FATF legislative issues in this regard. Moreover, with the adoption of the 18 th amendment, parochial and racial discrimination increases not decreases.

Read more: Rumors of presidential system are baseless: Fawad

But the time has come that Pakistan must adopt the presidential form of government and sack the parliamentary system. The foremost reason is that in the presidential system the head of state is usually elected through a direct election. So, the citizens would have a much clear option to choose the one as their leader. As it can be observed that in our country, voters have limited choices to choose. They are bound due to feudal mind-set and undue-influence to not to vote as per their wishes, since there is no option to ‘vote for prime minister’ like one can vote for ‘president’ under a presidential system.

Moreover, the stability of government is another advantage—and that Pakistan needs the most. Because opposition parties would not be able to blackmail, like here, to displace the government by hook or by crook, where unstable coalitions, demanding minority parties, votes of no confidence, and threats of such votes, etc make the effective policy-making and implementation near to impossible. And it is prima facie in our country that the Prime Minister is being always tried to be contained in a continuous threat that he may lose his position solely because his party may at anytime lose requisite seats in parliament, even though he may still be popular nationally.

Furthermore, the presidential system will allow for the separation of powers in a true sense, as the legislature will be a completely different structure and institution. And thereby, an effective system of checks and balances will also be placed in governance. Besides, by adopting the presidential system, the president will have more powers to work speedily and effectively; thereby the uniform policy-making along with uniform policy-implementation will also bring positive outcomes to subdue the parochial and racial discrimination. And if citizens cloyed with one person being their president, they may next time flatly refuse to vote him directly, instead of being compelled to vote for their constituency only. And one president with having two-terms to be elected consistently will add icing on the cake to utilize the fruits of democracy.

Read more: Petition filed in SC seeking referendum for presidential form of government

Although one may argue that there are a lot of drawbacks in the presidential system too: for instance, the rhetoric of authoritarianism, deadlocks between executive and legislature, rigid form of government, nepotism, and favoritism, etc. but all these may not suffice to counter the above-stated reasonings for the presidential system in Pakistan, because the disadvantages of the parliamentary system in Pakistan, currently, have outweighed the disadvantages of the hopeful presidential system.

Why a parliamentary system has more cons than pros

Besides, the fundamental disadvantage of a parliamentary system that the Prime Minister is unable to be elected unless his party wins the whole country’s election, the other disadvantage is that there is no independent body to oppose and veto legislation approved by parliament, and thus there is a lack of cohesive check and balance system. Moreover, the instability factor, in Pakistan—can never be removed—because whenever the minority parties want, they through coalition, can bring down the majority party’s government.

Furthermore, there are other disadvantages of the parliamentary system in Pakistan which include the unqualified legislators: to be appointed as an assistant, secretary, or even a clerk who understands and operates the basic computer, qualification of a Masters level education is needed with a written test among thousands of competitors, followed by psychological tests and interviews as a requirement; and to be elected as representative the only requirement is money, lots of money.

Read more: Is parliamentary system of governance in Pakistan a salient feature of the Constitution?

Eventually, these unqualified representatives placed more reliance on bureaucracy. Moreover, the Ministers or the executive should be from the ruling party, and thus, unqualified replaces the qualified experts for the job. As it has been held in recent judgment by Islamabad High Court, that advisers to Prime Minister are not Ministers. Last but not least, it is also obvious, in Pakistan, that personal interests outweigh national interests, and the only issues being mostly discussed in the parliament debates, media channels, newspapers, and even in election campaigns, etc are these personal interests.

Calling for a true referendum to decide Pakistan’s fate

Since the majority of the developed states are being run through the Presidential system, for instance, the United States of America, Russia, China, France, Turkey, etc the parliamentary system is mostly used in third world countries. This system was given to us by the English Colonial rulers, and this system has nothing to do with our religion, culture, or with our national norms and behaviors. Also, there is no proof that if this system is effective in England or Japan, then it will be effective here too. As our citizens, cultures, and norms can never be the same as theirs, so as the system of government too.

Read More: Pakistan: Is it safe to reopen schools now?

Therefore, it is high time that a referendum must be called in Pakistan on the
question of adoption of the presidential or parliamentary form of government
and let it be decided by the citizens.

Hafiz Muhammad Azeem, the writer, is an advocate of the Lahore High Court and he also teaches law. He writes research-based articles on various topics. You can reach him at Khokhar.azeem@yahoo.com and can also read his articles on hmazeem.blospot.com. The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of GVS.