NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 17

Elected ministers, unelected advisers and our political structure

There is yet another turn in the approach to rule from Prime Minister Imran Khan, as he has started replacing unelected advisers with elected people. In the latest development regarding the governing approach, another key government adviser, Hafeez Shaikh, was recently shown the door and he has been replaced by a core Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) member, Hammad Azhar.

Shaikh was an Adviser to the PM on Finance, given a six-month stopgap posting as a full-fledged minister as provided in the Constitution. Azhar is an elected member of the National Assembly. In the coming days, the replacement of other unelected advisers is also expected. Earlier, Information Minister Shibli Faraz was also appointed a minister as an elected member of parliament, replacing former adviser on information, Firdous Ashiq Awan.

PM Khan wanted Shaikh to become a senator, so that he could hold a permanent position as finance minister. However, in a surprise development in the last Senate election, Shaikh, who was contesting on a general seat from Islamabad, lost to the joint opposition candidate, Yusuf Raza Gilani, who is also a former Prime Minister of Pakistan. Before the March 3 Senate election, PM Khan used all his influence to make Shaikh a senator as he thought that the ex-finance minister had been doing wonders. Even after he lost the election, PM Khan asked him to continue working as finance minister. But then what happened that he was sacked? Federal Information Minister Shibli Faraz told the media that Shaikh was shown the door because of unbridled inflation in the country. This is really strange. Nevertheless, there were rumours in informed circles that some powerful institutions of the country were not happy with Shaikh. It was not so because of his performance but for some other important reasons.

Now replacing unelected advisers with elected members by PM Khan suggests something very important that his experiment with the unelected advisers could not produce the desired results. However, one is not ready to accept that there has been some problem with the advisers, rather the problem lies within the extant political and administrative structure of the country that they could not work to their maximum potential.

During the rule of the PTI in 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan was replacing elected ministers with handpicked experts as advisers and handing them the charge of different ministries one after the other. Important ministries, like finance, information and health, had been placed under unelected advisers. The appointment of unelected advisers as in-charges of different ministries by Prime Minister Imran Khan had raised serious question marks on the functionality and relevance of the political system as important parts of the system were being run by people, who had not been part of it. By the middle of 2019, the Prime Minister had made some important changes in his cabinet and the most important of them was the replacement of his Finance Minister Asad Umar, National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination Minister Aamir Kiyani as well as Minister for Petroleum Ghulam Sarwar Khan. Going into the political merits of the changes, they had become necessary due to a continued economic meltdown in the country as well as the ever-rising prices of natural gas and medicines. There have also been some other unelected advisers to the Prime Minister, like Dr. Ishrat Hussain and Abdul Razaaq Daud, who are looking after important portfolios in the federal government, whereas Dr Babar Awan, a key legal adviser, also made a comeback after remaining away for a while.

As mentioned above, the appointment of Hafeez Shaikh and other unelected advisers had put huge question marks over the feasibility and strength of the entire parliamentary political system of the country. If a political system cannot produce figures, who can run important ministries, how come it can be called relevant, let alone an efficient system?

It is important to understand the need of a viable political system for the country. The political system of a country is important for organising society and responding to the needs of the people and the provision of an environment, which is essential for the social, economic and physical development of the country as well as the welfare of its citizens and their personality development. It is the structure and functions of a political system and its institutions that condition policies and governance within the state. Hence, the system of government or political system ought to be meticulously designed so that it is effective and efficient in achieving its objectives that, inter alia, include the stability of society through ensuring social control, security of citizens, the provision of basic amenities and social services and guaranteeing the fundamental rights of the people and achieving development in all spheres of human activity.

Our Constitution provides for the parliamentary system of government in the country. The country is once again at a crossroads in its largely chequered history, whereas the political system, despite its relative continuity, has generally been unable to fulfil its basic functions and achieve its fundamental objectives. It is up to the people to agree what kind of political system the country must have. A large majority of politicians and political parties, which claim to be representatives of the people, have considered the parliamentary system the best option for the state and its residents for decades. They have been against any other political system, specifically an alternative proportional representative and presidential system.

PM Khan and his government have many lacuna and shortcomings in their policies and approach to put the economy on the right track and come up with good governance strategies in other respects; however, if we look deeper into our economic and financial woes, the roots could be traced back to the inception of a real parliamentary system in the 1970s, when Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came up with his nationalisation policies, followed by pseudo-“Islamization” of the economy by General Zia in the 1980s, public-private partnership of Benazir Bhutto in the late 80s and mid-90s and privatization and deregulation policies of Nawaz Sharif in the 1990s. Importantly, in all three dictatorial regimes of General Ayub Khan in the 1960s, General Zia and General Musharraf in the 2000s, all of whom led a fundamentally presidential system, the economy performed far better. However, the fundamental problem with the military regimes was their dictatorial character due to which the structural and systemic flaws of the country could not be addressed. The elected governments could also not fix the economy once and for all due to myopic and self-centered policies of the rulers.

Against this backdrop, whether PM Khan is now experimenting with elected ministers and replacing his failed strategy of working with unelected advisers, it would not work either because the real problem is with the political system and the administrative edifice it provides for.