As the country is rife with rumours of a deal between the opposition parties along with some disgruntled factions of the ruling party and the country’s establishment for the formation of a national government, there have also been reports that echelons of power are also considering introducing a presidential system in the country. Rumours of the formation of a national government have been ratified by leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) but fears about the introduction of a presidential system have also been expressed by the opposition parties.
It appears that the opposition parties are in favour of the formation of a national government as it would have at least a couple of key benefits for them. First, it would enable the opposition parties, particularly the power-hungry head of the JUI-F, who has been out of the power corridors for the first time, to be in power again. Second, most of the key opposition leaders are facing serious corruption cases and they would escape conviction as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) during a national government would not move actively against them. The idea of the formation of a national government and the opposition’s tacit approval of it demonstrates that the parliamentary political system has failed to provide political stability to the country and resultantly unable to deliver basic services to the citizens and ensure good governance. However, if the formation of a national government is an admission of a failure of the parliamentary political system, then why are key political parties and politicians against the introduction of a presidential political system in the country? The only reason is that the new system would not accommodate ineffective politicians which the in-vogue parliamentary political system has been producing for the last several decades.
The debate and discussion for the need of a presidential political system in the country has emerged as serious and intellectual circles of society think and rightly so that the parliamentary political system has utterly failed to solve the issues of society and fulfil the aspirations of the people let alone provide the country political stability and structures of good governance. When the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Prime Minister Imran Khan started to emerge as a strong political force in 2012, people’s expectations grew enormously that after the inability and corruption of the PML-N and the PPP and their repeated failures to provide good governance to the country, the then transparent PTI leadership would deliver. However, after ultimately coming to power in 2018, with narrowly winning the national elections in July 2018, the PTI has been in power for nearly three and a half years but governance and the economic situation in the country have worsened. Now there are strong voices from the opposition, intelligentsia and even informed citizens that the present PTI coalition government must be sent packing. There is a lot of justification for removing the PTI government, but the problem is who would replace it? In the available political system, only a relatively big party, like the PML-N, is the only option as the PPP does not have any strong constituency left across Pakistan except Sindh province. Even if the PML-N comes to power and whether the issues and problems of the country would be resolved is a big question. Moreover, if fresh elections are held and someone from the existing political lot becomes the prime minister, whether he or she would be able to address the mammoth problems of the state and society? The answer is no.
The demands for the revocation of the current parliamentary system of government and replacing it with the presidential system of government in the country also emerged sometime back. In this regard, three constitutional petitions had been submitted with the Supreme Court of Pakistan, while a provincial governor has also been openly calling for the imposition of the presidential system of government. The two constitutional petitions filed in August 2020 were returned with objections by the Supreme Court; however, the third one filed by a famous constitutional expert and one of the architects of the 1973 Constitution, Ahmed Raza Kasuri, was quite important and meaningful. The significance of the constitutional petitions asking for the replacement of the parliamentary system with the presidential system had been given a further boost when Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Shah Farman also demanded a presidential system in the country.
The demand for a presidential system in the country by Governor Shah Farman has been extremely significant. He is not only a sitting governor but an important leader of the ruling PTI. Moreover, he has been a confidante of PM Imran Khan for more than a decade. Farman is also a legal expert. Talking to a news channel in the past and recently in extensive discussions, Farman talked sense and truth. He said that he had absolutely no doubt that in the existing parliamentary system the prime minister or he cannot serve the people desirably. He gave the example of the United States in the initial years and said that then one of their long serving chief justices, John Marshal, by liberally interpreting the Constitution made it a really federal orientation. This 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 judiciary, have kept a perfect balance. The checks and balances, separation 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, this system of government is tailor-made for unitary states but not a federal, multi-ethnic state, like Pakistan or for that matter the US. It is arguable that the downfall of the UK as a great power has also been due to the parliamentary political system there. Moreover, all powerful countries of the world today, whether the US, China, Russia, all have presidential systems. Then in most of the democratic countries of the world, the presidential system is in vogue and only a few countries have the parliamentary system.
In his petition in the Supreme Court earlier, Ahmed Raza Kasuri solicited the apex court to ask the Prime Minister 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 was Article 184(3) of the Constitution, arguing that the welfare of the people and the wellbeing of the country demand a 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 were absolutely correct because Pakistan, despite inheriting the parliamentary form of government from Britain, had not a rich background of democratic norms and conventions of democracy. But all the constitutional petitions for the introduction of a presidential system were turned down by the Supreme Court of Pakistan quite rightly because the court was not the right forum to initiate the process of a political system change. In fact, the court could not do so because its own genesis and legitimacy derives from the Constitution and it cannot initiate constitutional changes on its own. It is the parliament that could do it and it is high time that the parliament passed a resolution calling for holding a referendum to ascertain the general people’s views about the presidential system. Sooner it is done the better otherwise one could not see any scope for improvement in the extant parliamentary system.