There are a good number of scholars and political pundits who are of the view that at the heart of our problem is our political system – the parliamentary form of government. They have prescribed that the only solution is to adopt a presidential system which will be suitable to the federation of Pakistan.
Recently, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan formed a new political party. In his first press conference, he spelled out the agenda of his party including the substitution of the parliamentary system with a presidential one.
A former law minister who also held the post of attorney general of Pakistan surprised the media, the government and the people of Pakistan with his statement to the press that the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, wanted the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan to frame the constitution using the presidential system (American model). His opinion was based on a note which he claimed to possess was in the handwriting of Quaid-e-Azam. At the time of this alleged note, Quaid-e-Azam was the chairman of the Constituent Assembly and governor-general of Pakistan.
All these learned and weighty references cannot be ignored. However, I do not find them as a clear verdict for the adoption of the presidential form of government.
None of the columnists have advanced reasons for their preference for a presidential system. No objective study was presented either in the columns or in the statement of the learned former chief justice.
None of the columns in support of the presidential form of government have educated the people on the merits of the presidential system. All that one could glean from them is that the present is rotten and the only alternative is to adopt the presidential system.
Some of them have referred to some features such as the executive (president) not being accountable to parliament, nor bound to appoint his cabinet from amongst the members of parliament. The president can assemble a ‘cabinet of talent’. The success of the system is eulogised by the status and development of the superpower US.
The mere success of a system in one country is no proof that it will produce the same result in another country, that has a different history and social order. As they say, the appearance of one sparrow is no proof of the coming of spring.
The UK, France, Germany, Japan and Switzerland are all developed countries in their own way, yet they have different systems to the one in the US. Another example is the unprecedented success of China.
Our former chief justice has so far merely announced the vision of his party. We will wait till he or his party spell out the reasons for this substitution.
As to the statement of one of our former law ministers regarding the note of Quaid-e-Azam, my research has not been able to find any such note or statement of Quaid-e-Azam indicating that he desired Pakistan adopt the American model of government. The said note could be something somebody may have suggested to Quaid or his own thought to look into this proposition.
The Resolution of the AIML passed in 1939 was presided over and endorsed by Jinnah. The resolution of 1939 said: “Muslim India – would be irrevocably opposed to ‘any federal objective which must necessarily result in a majority community rule under the guise of democracy and a parliamentary system of government’. Such a constitution is totally unsuitable to the genius of the people of the country.”
Some of the authors have cited the above resolution to convince the readers that Quaid-e-Azam was opposed to the parliamentary system. (Note: Even Mahatma Gandhi opposed the UK parliamentary system. But he did not prefer the presidential system; instead, he pleaded a constitution based on Panchayats according to his vision.)
The AIML resolution was passed in 1939 when the League was cooperating with Congress for a free and independent United India. The tyranny of the Hindu majority that the parliamentary system permitted was the basic reason for demanding a different system than parliamentary style democracy. However, there was no reference to a presidential system.
What the constitution of Pakistan should be was spelled out in the address on August 11, 1947 by Quaid-e-Azam to the Constituent Assembly, as its chairman. He spoke of pluralism, tolerance, total freedom of religion and corruption-free state.
If the note in question was in fact an opinion of the great Quaid, he would have given out some features for the government from the US model. The Quaid would have referred in his speech to some features of the US model such as total separation of the executive (president) from parliament and/or system of checks and balances. The omission is significant.
We can now have a rundown of our constitutional history, relating as to how and why the nation decided to adopt a parliamentary system for itself. We will start from our first constitution (1956), continue to the adoption of a presidential system (1962) and to a consensus that the parliamentary form of government suits the nation (1969).
Due to lack of space, the subject will now continue in the next column.
The writer is a member of the Senate.