NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 03

Demand for presidential system gathers steam

Demands for the revocation of the parliamentary system of government and replacing it with the presidential system of government in the country are growing. Three constitutional petitions have been submitted with the Supreme Court of Pakistan, while a provincial governor has also openly called for the imposition of the presidential system of government. Although the earlier two constitutional petitions filed in August were returned with objections by the court; yet the third one filed by a famous constitutional expert and one of the architects of the 1973 Constitution, Ahmed Raza Khan Kasuri, is quite important and meaningful. The significance of the constitutional petitions asking for the replacement of the parliamentary system with the presidential system has boosted after Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Shah Farman also demanded the presidential system.

The demand for the presidential system in the country by Governor Shah Farman is extremely significant. He is not only a sitting governor but an important leader of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Moreover, he has been a confidante of PM Khan for more than a decade. Farman is also a noted law expert. Talking to a news channel, he talked sense. He said that he had absolutely no doubt that in the existing parliamentary system the prime minister or he could not serve the people desirably. He cited the example of the United States in the initial years and said that one of their long serving Chief Justices, John Marshal, by liberally interpreting the constitution made it a really federal in orientation. It is absolutely correct and we have almost 200 years of American experience in front of us, where the presidential system and the theory of separation of powers among the three pillars of the state i.e. the President, Congress and the judiciary, have kept a perfect balance. The checks and balances, separated and strong executive authority, resting in the office of the President, had made the United States a world power by the dawn of the 20th century and it is still economically, educationally and militarily the strongest power on earth. The role of the presidential political system in the success of America is the single most important factor. In the case of Pakistan, we inherited the parliamentary system of government from the British colonial rulers. However, the system of government is tailor-made for unitary states and not a federal, multi-ethnic state, like Pakistan, or for that matter, the US.

Coming to the petition of Ahmed Raza Kasuri, he solicited the Supreme Court to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to hold a referendum to ascertain the will of the citizens of Pakistan under the Article 48(6) of the 1973 Constitution. The basis of Kasuri’s petition is Article 184(3) of the Constitution, so he argued that the welfare of the people and the wellbeing of the country demanded the presidential system. He said, “If at any stage in the national interest the State and the constitution confront each other, naturally the choice of the people would be to save the State instead of the constitution.”

Kasuri’s arguments are absolutely correct, because Pakistan, despite bequeathing the parliamentary form of government from Britain, had no background of democratic norms. As he argued, parliamentary democracy without uniform education is tantamount to hypocrisy. At the same time, the feudal social structure in vogue in the large part of Pakistan along with the parliamentary system of governance has been a real recipe for disaster. This is what we have seen in Pakistan. The parliamentary system has reinforced the feudal social structure through its constituency-based politics instead of dismantling it which the country long required. The political elite of the country have been dominated by landed gentry along with Muslim clergy, whose members slowly and gradually become an auxiliary to the political elite, and the bureaucracy has been supporting and defending the parliamentary political system as it ensures their dominance instead of the people. Therefore, the political elite of Pakistan have been making fortunes while the common people have been facing unbearable problems.

One point which Kasuri also identified is that democratic political culture is the backbone of the parliamentary form of government. A country and society lacking democratic culture is not fit for parliamentary democracy. If Pakistan’s history is any guide, the parliamentary system even in the initial years could not provide much-needed political stability or pave the way for nation-building and state-formation. For instance, in the initial nine years of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, Khawaja Nazimuddin, Muhammad Ali Bogra, I.I. Chundrigar, Chaudhry Muhammad Ali and Sir Feroz Khan Noon were appointed and removed as prime ministers. It indicates how fragile the parliamentary form of government has been in Pakistan. The present parliamentary system of government in Pakistan, fashioned after the UK, has completely failed to provide a satisfactory system of government to Pakistan, which is facing a serious crisis in every sphere of governance and social life. It may be mentioned that PM Khan is personally in favour of the presidential system of government and he has expressed it on several occasions.

Before Kasuri, Tahir Aziz Khan, Chairman Hum Awam Pakistan, and Dr Sadiq Ali, holding a PhD in turbine design from Ulster University, had also filed petitions for the presidential system, which were dismissed. It is important to note that whether Governor Farman, constitutionalist Kasuri, Tahir Aziz or Dr. Sadiq, they all are highly educated and experienced individuals and have made the demand for the presidential system seemingly in good faith. It is important to note that it has long been argued by the political parties of Pakistan that the political system would start delivering and ameliorating the lot of the common people once there is continuity in the system. Their argument has been that the imposition of martial law by military dictators made the political system ineffective and inconsequential. The argument seems to have lost substance as the parliamentary system of government has been continuously in place in the country without interruption since 2002 and three governments have completed their respective five-year tenures and the fourth one is on its way. Nevertheless, political stability is still a pipedream. This needs deep soul-searching. There may be many politicians, whether former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, President Asif Zardari, current PM Imran Khan and many others in the political parties but they could not do anything because of system constraints. If they had come through a really country-wide mandate, which is only possible through the presidential system, they could have been able to deliver to their maximum potential and will.