Kanwar Muhammad Dilshad
IN a recent media interview, President Arif Alvi revealed that the PTI has seriously been discussing whether to switch to a presidential rule. For many in the party, only a centralized power structure could ensure political and economic stability in the country. Such arguments are not new. They manifest an increasing tendency towards authoritarianism. It’s more about the crisis of governance rather than failure of parliamentary democracy. A democratic government can either take the parliamentary or presidential form. The marked difference between the two is that in parliamentary system. the government is made by the party winning the most seats in Parliament and electing a prime minister as the head of the government whereas in the Presidential setup, a President is the head of the government who is directly elected by the people. Pakistan has been ruled by democratic governments during the half of its 70 years’ history. But during all this time the democratic governments have not been able to deliver and utterly failed to come up to the expectations of the masses. As a matter of fact democracies have done well in countries with very high literacy rates. In Pakistan unfortunately only two percent of the population is truly literate up to graduation level and this is ascribed as one of the main reasons for the democratic governments ‘ failure. The problem with this way of thinking is that since education level cannot be raised substantially in the short run, it offers no solution to the problem.
The intelligentsia of the country has now been thinking on the lines that the fault perhaps lies with the parliamentary form of government because in this form of government, the chief executive (prime minister) remains under heavy pressure of parliament due to the fact that he is accountable to the legislature, all the power is vested in his hands, he can dissolve the lower house, his tenure is not fixed and he can be made to leave swiftly in case of a successful no-trust motion against him. It is because of these shortcomings of the Parliamentary form of government that think-tanks, political philosophers and strategists of the country have been giving signal to shift to the Presidential form of government. This form of government does not seem to suffer from the ills attributed to Parliamentary form of government. The salient features of this form of government which outclass the parliamentary form of government are as follows: Ø Powers are divided into legislative, executive and judiciary which work independent of each other. Ø The Chief Executive (President) is not accountable to the legislature. Ø The Chief Executive (President) cannot dissolve Lower House. Ø Persons outside the legislature are appointed as ministers. Ø Term of Chief Executive (President) is fixed.
The presidential form of government is being run quite successfully in three most developed countries rather super powers of the world –USA, Russia and France. The advocates of this system feel the presidential form of government is suitable for our country as it is better suited to the political environment prevailing herein. These views are being given due coverage in the media. The observation: “The alternative is a referendum on the issue, on which the constitution is vague if not silent.” The constitution is not the word of God or sacrosanct that it cannot be changed. Even the original 1973 Constitution has undergone many changes carried out by successive governments. Therefore there is nothing sacrosanct in amending its provisions. A popular referendum is a device which allows voters to approve or repeal an act of the legislature. A referendum has more legitimacy as it flows from the grass-roots level with each citizen exercising his right on the particular issue. The United Kingdom’s crucial decision of opting out of the European Union (Brexit) was not routed through parliament but decided through a referendum owing to its far-reaching implications. For that matter, the British constitution is also silent on referendum (Britain does not have a written Constitution). Had the 18th Amendment been a wonderful thing, the largest democracy on earth, India, would have adopted it in letter and spirit. In my opinion the 18th Amendment needs to be revisited, if not altogether scrapped. It has given rise to polarisation and divisiveness while making the federation bankrupt.
The need of the hour is the creation of more provinces and strengthening of the local bodies’ set-up. If these suggestions are incorporated in the 18 Amendment, it can become an agent of change. It is apparent that Imran Khan is not comfortable working within the confines of the parliamentary system. He has been voicing his frustration at various forums. He feels constrained without absolute power. He would not even attend parliamentary sessions because of a vociferous opposition. He would not interact with the opposition leaders even on issues that require consultation according to the law and the Constitution. Lacking a clear majority in parliament, the Prime Minister needs the support of the Opposition to legislate, but he would not seek it. As a result, the government has failed to do any legislation in the last eight months. Can this be described as a failure of the system or as Imran Khan’s own egotism? In a parliamentary democracy one needs to learn to make compromises where they are needed. One cannot blame the opposition for one’s own ineptitude and mistakes. National Democratic Foundation has taken due notice of this situation and in order to facilitate the countrymen to find a way out bas organized a national dialogue on evaluation of political governance through parliamentary or presidential form of government. This dialogue or conference has been scheduled to take place on Saturday, the l5 June 20 l 9 at Islamabad.
—The writer is former Federal Secretary Election Commission of Pakistan and currently Chairman National Democratic Foundation.