NationalVolume 14 Issue # 19

Unelected advisers and system’s viability

Prime Minister Imran Khan continues to replace elected ministers with nominated experts as advisors and handing them over the charge of different ministries. Important ministries like finance, information and health have been placed under unelected advisers.

The appointment of unelected advisers as in-charge of different ministries by Prime Minister Imran Khan has raised serious questions about the functionality and relevance of the political system as important parts of the system are being run by people who are not part of it. The most recent entry to the clan of expert advisers of PM Khan cabinet is Dr. Zafar Mirza, who is in-charge of the Federal Health Ministry. Previously, the prime minister made some important changes in his cabinet and the most important of them was the change of his Finance Minister Asad Umar, National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination Minister Aamir Kiyani as well as the Minister for petroleum Ghulam Sarwar Khan. Going into the political merits of the changes, they had become necessary due to continued economic meltdown in the country as well as the ever-rising prices of natural gas and medicines. There are also some other unelected advisers of the prime minister, like Dr. Ishrat Hussain and Abdul Razaaq Daud, who are looking after important portfolios in the federal government.

The appointment of Dr. Sheikh and other unelected advisers has 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 that can run important ministries, how come it could be called a relevant, let alone efficient system?

Here, it is important to understand the need of a viable political system for the country. The political system of a country is crucially important for organizing society and responding to the needs of the people and the provision of an environment which is essential for social, economic and physical development of the country as well as the welfare of citizens and their personality development. It is the structure and functions of the 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 to be effective and efficient in achieving objectives that inter alia include stability of society through ensuring social control, security of citizens, the provision of basic amenities and social services and guaranteeing 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 the crossroads in its largely chequered history whereas the political system, despite its relative continuity, has generally been unable to fulfill 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 but the dominant majority of politicians and political parties, who claim to be representative of the people, for decades have had considered the parliamentary system the best option for the state and its residents. They have been against any other political system specifically the alternative proportional representative and presidential system. The foremost criticism by Pakistani political parties of the presidential system of government has been its “undemocratic” nature. The fact of the matter is that generally the presidential system that is in vogue in many countries of the world, like the greatest democracy America and extensively democratic Germany, it has proved more democratic than the parliamentary system in place in many countries, like the largest democracy India or oldest democracy Great Britain.

Whether Pakistanis could and should ponder over an alternative political system, against this backdrop one has to look into the merits of a possible presidential system in the country. The foremost reason in this regard is that parliamentary politics and the system of governance result in polarization in society and the political system, due to which the biggest victims are policymaking and governance and ultimately the people. The parliamentary political system is based on constituency-based elections and power struggle. Fundamentally, Pakistan is a traditional, rural and tribal society where constituencies are inhabited by a few families, biraderis (lineage groups) or tribes having historical enmities and feuds. More often, these different social groups struggle for power at the local level, which at times, becomes quite intimate and violent. Moreover, dominate groups at the constituency or local level manipulate the system by intimidating the people. In the presidential system, local groups having personal, familial, tribal interests cannot dominate politics while the local influentials whether chaudrhirs, Khans, nawabswaderas, wajas etc cannot dictate the political system. In the presidential system every citizen has really an equal chance of becoming a president or a provincial governor.

Then, in the presidential system the legislative and executive authority, unlike the parliamentary system, rests in different state organs. This leads to quality policymaking and governance, the lack of which has kept the Pakistani state largely unresponsive. Moreover, in the presidential system, the chief executive, which in this case is the president, has relative freedom to implement policies and come up with innovative projects and strategies for development and raising the life standard of the majority of people.

In the presidential system, the parochial and separatist-minded political parties and groups do not have any chance to get power. Ethno-linguistic political parties although are important in democracy yet if they make the system hostage, as has been the case in Pakistan, then these parties are causes of instability.

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 the real parliamentary system in 1970s, when Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto came up with his nationalization policies, followed by pseudo “Islamization” of the economy by General Zia in 1980s, public-private partnership of Benazir Bhutto in late 80s and mid-90s and privatization and deregulation policies of Nawaz Sharif in 1990s. Importantly, in all three dictatorial regimes of Gen. Ayub Khan in 1960s, General Zia and General Musharraf in 2000s, all of whom led a fundamentally presidential system, the economy performed far better. However, the fundamental problem with these 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.

The debate which has already started in the country regarding a change in the political system is very important and we all must participate in it because it is the question of the future of the country and everyone of us as the parliamentary system is not proving a panacea for the ills of the country.