This is my second article on the same subject. I will discuss the possibility and usefulness of the presidential system in Pakistan.
The martial law of 1958 was imposed inter alia due to the failure of the 1956 parliamentary constitution. The use of the ‘vote of no confidence’ by the majority in parliament was referred to; PMs would fall in a domino effect. Some of them stayed in power for months, some only for weeks, which made the country a ‘laughing stock in the international community’.
General Ayub Khan, the then CMLA, appointed a commission headed by Justice Shahab-ud-Din, a judge of immaculate reputation.
The commission after an in-depth study and interaction with the politicians recommended the parliamentary system with a presidential one.
General Ayub Khan did adopt the presidential form of government, but did not include all the features of the system recommended by the commission. A hybrid constitution 1962 was finally drafted by Mian Manzoor Qadir. To give one example, the president of the US is elected through adult franchise, whereas under the 1962 constitution of Pakistan, the president was to be elected indirectly by ‘basic democrats’ of 16,000 only (8,000 from each wing).
I will discuss the causes of the failure of Ayub’s era, despite unprecedented industrial development and economic progress, in another column.
A movement (PDM) started against the government of President Ayub Khan, demanding a return to the parliamentary form of government based on adult franchise. When the masses joined the movement, an Action Committee (DAC) was formed by the PDM to aggressively push for its demand. The movement took an ugly form.
President Ayub Khan sought solution in a round table conference which met on March 10, 1965.
It may be necessary to take the readers into the prevailing environment of the RTC and the extremely brief discussion by its various participants.
Ayub Khan opened the conference by pointing out the challenging times and stated that he and his government were participating with an open mind. Nawabzada Nasrullah spoke next:
“On the constitutional issues they would like the government to accept the following demands: i) restoration of the federal parliamentary system; ii) elections on direct adult franchise; and iii) regional autonomy.”
I intervened on behalf of the government.
S M Zafar: “Will you be kind enough to explain whether regional autonomy is a separate issue, or a part of the federal parliamentary system, because in a federation provinces do have regional autonomy.
Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan: “There are in fact only two demands on which there is consensus.”
Sheikh Mujeebur Rehman: “Complete unanimity on the imperative necessity of effecting the changes to establish a federal parliamentary system and direct elections based on franchise.” Additionally, he argued for representation on population basis and full regional autonomy between the east and west wings.
President Ayub Khan: “Will such a federation in fact be a confederation? How about taxes?”
Mujeeb ur Rehman: “The federal government will ask the regional governments to give money.”
President Ayub Khan: “This will mean a contribution.”
Ch Muhammad Ali: “I endorse the two demands of the DAC. However, to the question of Ayub Khan relating to inherent instability in the parliamentary form, the executive once selected should not be voted out except with two-thirds majority, and before the removal of a prime minister his substitute has to be indicated before a vote of confidence can be moved.”
Wali Khan: After voicing “The country is heading towards civil war”, he insisted for acceptance of the two demands as well as dissolution of One Unit, on the basis of a ‘feeling that Punjab has exploited smaller provinces’.
President Ayub Khan: “Let us decide consensus issues only, others can be taken by the newly elected Assembly and the government.”
Mufti Mahmood: “We will have to decide whether this country should be Islamic or secular and we must adopt the 22 principles (which the Ulema in 1951 formulated) into our constitution. Definition of ‘Muslim’ should be also given.”
Noor ul Amin: “I praise the calling of the RTC and I endorse the two demands.”
Ch Muhammad Ali: “The DAC does not have the mandate other than the two.”
Azhar Khan: “I agree what has been said on behalf of the DAC.” On a different issue he declared to boycott the conference.
Concluding the conference, the president made the following historical statement: “I still believe the parliamentary form of government is best for the country....But I will bow to the public opinion”.
Most of the participants congratulated Ayub Khan for the courageous and statesman-like decision. The RTC ended with a consensus that parliament shall first amend the 1962 constitution according to the consensus.
The political drama ended on a consensus which put Pakistan on the path of a parliamentary form of government.
In 1973 when the nation was in a sombre mood, the top leaders of the then West Pakistan signed the agreed constitution – in parliamentary form. (The innovations included by Z A Bhutto, the then chief martial law administrator and president of the Pakistan People’s Party will be discussed in the next column.)
The next column will be on the working of the 1973 constitution under civil and martial law governments.
The writer is a member of the Senate.