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Debate about presidential system

Akbar Jan Marwat

IN Pakistan there has been a desire and proclivity to invent and innovate new political systems in the name of people and good governance. The real desire behind this urge may be to do away with cumbersome restrictions of the present system and get unbridled power to rule. In Pakistan the Clamor for a Presidential System is again gaining currency. This demand needs to be analyzed objectively and fairly. To my knowledge, besides the campaign on the social media, governor KP Shah Farman has been the first high-ranking government functionary who publically advocated the establishment of a Presidential system in Pakistan, while speaking to Saleem Safi in Geo TV program Jirga. I have been told that President Arif Alvi has also commented in a certain gathering, that the PTI is seriously thinking that about shifting to the Presidential system.
The Presidential or the Parliamentary System is not good or bad per- se; objective and subjective conditions of any country have to be studied minutely, to decide which system would be more beneficial for the country. We in Pakistan have had ample experience of both Presidential as well as parliamentary system. Interestingly presidential system in Pakistan invariably coincided with military rule in the country. Generally speaking, the debate about having a Presidential System and its merits has been perennial in Pakistan. But recently the proposition seems to have acquired series connotations, as P.M. Imran Khan and his party are getting increasingly skeptical about the viability of the existing parliamentary democracy. For many in the PTI, only a centralized power structure offered by a presidential system could ensure Political and economic stability in the country. It is quite obvious that Imran Khan is not at ease working with in the confines of a parliamentary system. It seems that he feels constrained with out complete powers and has even not attended important parliamentary sessions because of vociferous resistance offered by the opposition. Imran Khan has even delayed obligatory consultation with the opposition on important matters laid down in the constitution. A corollary to the debate on the merits of the presidential system is the airing of test balloons on the full or partial annulment of 18th Amendment, in the constitution. According to the amendment, considerable powers and autonomy has been given to the provinces for first time, in Pakistan’s constitutional history.
Both these propositions of switching to the Presidential System and the complete or partial annulment of the 18th amendment, needs to be analyzed logically and with a cool mind. The way provided in the constitution for bringing about these changes must also be followed in letter and spirit. As mentioned in the third Para of this article, we have done enough experimentation with the Presidential System. From 1958 – 69, Gen Ayub ruled Pakistan as an all-powerful military President of Pakistan. The economy of the country grew. Heavy industry was put up and much needed infrastructure of the country including big dams like Mangla and Tarbella were constructed. But on the political front a unitary presidential system did not suit the genius of a multi-national society. This lead to alienation among smaller nationalities and according to some scholars ever sowed the seeds to the eventual dismemberment of the country in 1971.
Similarly the Presidential rules of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and Musharaf, which lasted for about a decade each, increased the economic growth in the country. But during the prolonged military rule, which also coincided with presidential system in Pakistan very little development in improving human infrastructure took place. Education, health and populations Welfare and Planning were given very little importance. According to some scholars, even the higher economic growth and development that took place during the three military presidential regimes, was largely due to foreign aid and was thus not sustainable. What is perhaps, most urgently needed, are structural reforms in the existing system rather than going for a more centralized Presidential System. A fundamental change in Pakistan’s Power structure is needed. A small coterie of power elite has dominated the country’s political scene during both military/presidential as well as parliamentary systems. Due to the influence of this small cohort, our state institutions have become extractive thus preventing the country’s progress on the path of economic and political progress.
In summing up it can be averred that just debating over the fact that Pakistan should switch over to a presidential system is not enough. According to some scholars even a 2/3 majority in Parliament is not enough to change the basic structure of the constitution from parliamentary to presidential. For this purpose either a new constitutional assembly has be elected to make a new constitutions or the nation goes for a referendum on this question. Similarly to undo the 18th amendment a 2/3 majority in Parliament is required which the present government dose not have.
—The writer is a former Health Minister, based in Islamabad.