NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 23

A new system on the cards?

Rumours of a new system are rife after the Supreme Court of Pakistan has ordered the government to establish at least 120 accountability courts to deal with pending corruption cases. Analysts say the process of accountability will expedite and most of politicians, including in the ruling party and those close to Prime Minister Imran Khan, would be behind bars in a few months.

The court order on accountability courts has come at a time when the media is airing rumours of a “minus-one formula” in the country. It meant Prime Minister Imran Khan would be removed from his post and a man in his party will take his place. However, it is a fact that the “formula” was never discussed at any state level and it was only the brainchild of the media and the opposition, which wanted to create uncertainty in the country. It is obvious that nobody can replace Imran Khan in his party. It is also a fact that the opposition is no position to topple the government. The opposition is divided and cannot get along for long even if it manages to bring a no-confidence move against the government. The situation will not be different after fresh elections.

However, some people’s belief fortified when Prime Minister Imran Khan dismissed the opposition’s loud chatter about a “minus-one” formula. “There can be no more tinkering with the system. Be ready for drastic changes. Whenever we will go for changes, the beneficiaries of a corrupt order will resist it,” the prime minister said in his address to the National Assembly. Refuting reports about differences in the ruling party and its allies, the prime minister said the opposition was talking about the “minus one formula” only to save its corruption. “They don’t know that even if minus one happens, the others will not spare them,” the prime minister said without any reference, thus fueling speculations already going on in political circles about a possible change in the set-up. It also lent credence to the rumours when referring to his reported speech at a dinner he had hosted for his party’s legislators and allies ahead of the budget passage, he clarified he had never stated that “Meri Kursi Mazboot Hai” (my chair is strong). “I live in my house and bear all my expenses, except for security. I do so because I don’t want to have worries after leaving the office and so that I do not have to compromise on my ideology and principles. No one can topple our government as long as we stand on our principles,” he said. He advised the young parliamentarians not to be scared of “leaving the chair,” saying no one remains in power for ever. His “dejected tone” was music to the ears of his opponents, the media and analysts inimical to him.

As rumours of a change in the system intensify, some say the country has already become a technocracy or heading for a presidential system. With the induction of Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh as adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Finance, Revenue and Economic Affairs, the number of technocrats in the cabinet has risen to over 12. After a recent reshuffle in the cabinet, at least 12 unelected representatives are part of the 47-member cabinet of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Health Minister Amir Kiyani and Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar have also been replaced by technocrats Dr Zafarullah and Nadeem Babar respectively. Other unelected advisers include Malik Amin Aslam, Abdul Razak Dawood, Dr Ishrat Hussain, Zulfi Bukhari, Usman Dar and others.

Critics say the induction of so many unelected advisers and special assistants in the cabinet shows Prime Minister Imran Khan’s lack of trust in the abilities of MNAs and senators of his own party. They lament that most important ministries have been assigned to people, who are not answerable to the parliament. They were also shocked at the reshuffle of only elected representatives as none of the unelected advisers and special assistants was sacked or given a new role. In this way, the government has introduced a system which is a mixture of technocracy and the presidential system, they argue.

The opposition parties have also expressed serious concerns over the inclusion of former ministers of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) governments in the federal cabinet. They fear they could be used as approvers against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, ex-President Asif Ali Zardari and other opposition leaders in cases against them. According to the opposition parties, the PTI government has completely failed and Prime Minister Imran Khan should quit the government to pave the way for new elections in the country.

Senior PPP leader Khursheed Shah said Prime Minister Imran Khan, while inducting Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh as his adviser, had accepted the PPP policy. He said elected people were hurt when unelected people were included in the cabinet. However, he failed to mention that Abdul Hafeez Sheikh was also a cabinet minister of former President General Pervez Musharraf, who was the finance minister in the PPP government. His appointment was justified in the PPP government, even though he was not an elected member of the parliament, but it hurt the opposition when he was appointed by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The opposition also suspects the government is attempting to introduce the presidential system of government in the country. Word has it that the system will be changed to meet the needs of the country as the old system has failed to deliver. It is said Imran Khan will lead the new system, whose feature would unfold in few months.