Stop debating Presidential System! Do this instead

As Pakistan enters its diamond jubilee year, it must debate how to make its democracy work for the people. For if it serves the people, it will serve the country. Pakistan needs a structural overhaul.


[How is a debate on the presidential or parliamentary form of democracy a conspiracy?] Pakistani airwaves are once again abuzz with all kinds of conspiracy theories regarding the Presidential form of government or a Parliamentary one for Pakistan. For starters, it is bewildering why such a debate in Pakistan is called a conspiracy.

Conspiracy against who and what? Those who brand it as such say it is against the Federation. They also call it a conspiracy against the smaller provinces. That is really surprising.

Could it be ignorance or naivety or plain politics? The fact is that as per the existing Constitution, one province alone, that is Punjab, can form a government in Islamabad without the participation of any other province. And that will be perfectly Constitutional.

How? Because Punjab holds more than fifty percent of the elected seats in the National Assembly and thus has the majority. Theoretically and constitutionally, it does not need any member from any other province to form the Federal government. Does anyone from the politicos to the academia to the media explain this to the people of Pakistan? Sadly no or perhaps rarely.

Read more: Pakistani Media: Freedom of Expression or Chaos Mongers

Wonder why? Is it the comfort of the status quo or the self interest of the few? Whatever the intent or the motivation, opposition to the debate itself is unhealthy and serves the national interest little. One may not like the Presidential system and that is his or her right. But it is grossly unfair to call it undemocratic or unpatriotic.

I heard a senior politician say on a TV talk show the other day that East Pakistan was lost because of the Presidential system. The truth is that there was a non democratic military rule in 1970-1971 and it was the fear of the Awami League’s Parliamentary majority following the general elections that Mr Bhutto preferred to part ways from the majority.

The bare fact is that despite the passage of seventy five years since independence Pakistan has not had a stable and effective democratic system. And in all fairness, it is not all because of the military interventions. Those have surely been part of the problem but not entirely.

Our politicians and our civil bureaucracy has to share as much of the blame if not more. The common man has just been a bystander. Yet, it is in his name that the game is played. Those opposing the presidential system also equate it with military rule. Now does the United States of America have military rule? Is USA not a democracy?

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Do the smaller States there feel exploited? Do all states there not have equal rights and self governance? Is the USA not a federation? Do countries like Germany, Italy, Belgium, France not have democratic governments? If they do, are they akin to the British Parliamentary system? No is the answer.

The truth is that our democratic system as it is structured today has not delivered. As Pakistan enters its diamond jubilee year, it must debate how to make its democracy work for the people. For if it serves the people, it will serve the country. Pakistan needs a structural overhaul. Our democratic edifice must be rebuilt anew, brick by brick. The following should be the ingredients:

  1. We should raise constitutionally mandated elected governments from tehsils to districts to towns and cities, financially and administratively empowered.
  2. Create at least three more provinces, two from Punjab and one from KP.
  3. Introduce proportionate system of representation to enable entry of the common man in the parliament without having to spend a fortune and eliminate the first past the post system which enables a person with a smaller percentage of votes to enter the parliament often depriving the majority of representation.
  4. Constitutionally mandate provincial finance awards on the pattern of the National Finance Awards.
  5. Reduce the tenure of the parliament and the government from five to four years.
  6. Give all provinces equal representation in the Senate by increasing the number of seats in the Senate for the new provinces.
  7. Empower the House Committees on the pattern of the system in vogue in the USA to ensure checks on the possible excesses of the executive.
  8. Establish a National Security Council that also includes the leader of the opposition in the two Houses of the Parliament.
  9. Decentralise the police service and raise a separate merit based federal police on the pattern of the FBI of USA or RCMP of Canada.
  10. Revamp the criminal justice system to ensure fair, prompt and effective dispensation of justice and introduce an independent and transparent recruitment and elevation system for the judiciary.
  11. Have a directly elected President and directly elected Governors (from the same province) who pick their cabinets from within or outside the elected assemblies, their main check being the empowered House Committees.

I am well aware that these will be seen as another manifestation of the ever easy to brand “conspiracy”. Some will call it as having been “planted”. If a strong, stable and efficient democratic system that has every potential of serving the people and the country is seen as a conspiracy then all I can is: so be it.

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Having said that, it is for the media and the academia to initiate a healthy national debate on the issue that could encourage the government and the opposition to do the same within the Parliament.

Syed Anwar Mehmood retired as a Secretary to the Government of Pakistan in 2008 after heading the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. Mr Anwar joined the Central Superior Services (CSS) of Pakistan in November in 1971. He has been the head of many media organizations as Chief Executive or as the Chairman of the Board, including PTV, PBC, SRBC, APP and the Press Information Department. The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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