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February 7, 2018

The way to genuine democracy


February 7, 2018

In my previous articles I have advocated the need to switch to a presidential form of democracy. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah realised during his lifetime that the parliamentary system of democracy was not suited for Pakistan because of the feudal stranglehold on the system of governance.

On many occasions, he warned about the evils of the feudal system and the need for Pakistan to invest in education in order to establish a genuine democracy. He also seriously thought about the best system of democracy in Pakistan and after much deliberation, concluded that it was the presidential form that would suit it best. According to a historical observation (that only a few know about), the Quaid-e-Azam wrote a note, ‘The Future Constitution of Pakistan’ in which he stated that the parliamentary form of government worked satisfactorily in England and nowhere else and that the presidential form of government was more suited for Pakistan.

This note is available in File 42 of 1947 which was unsealed by General Ziaul Haq, and a copy of it given to Sharifuddin Pirzada. The original is available in the Jinnah Papers in Islamabad. The note has been reproduced in the book titled ‘The Jinnah Anthology’ published by Oxford University Press. In a chapter titled ‘Constitutional set-up of Pakistan as visualised by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah’, Sharifuddin Pirzada states: “The note was jotted down by Jinnah on or about July 16, 1947. The note clearly states that in the future constitution of Pakistan, regarding the form of government, there would be a presidential form of government. It was not specified which presidential form. However, in the manner in which the government functioned from August 15, 1947 to September 11, 1948, it seems it was more on the pattern of the French system.” These views of Mohammed Ali Jinnah have been ignored by politicians and are known to only a few others.

I must clarify here that I do not advocate dictatorship, but a genuine democracy in which the president is elected by the general free vote, as is the practice in many other democracies. One significant advantage of a presidential system of democracy is that the elected president can select the country’s most eminent experts of various disciplines such as law, agriculture, science, information technology etc, and appoint them as federal ministers. These people would not otherwise be interested in trying to become ministers through the process of election. They are top professionals contributing in their respective fields, and therefore, need to be persuaded by the president to join the government and contribute to the process of nation building – though this would adversely affect their professional careers.

The involvement of top experts in the government as ministers is essential for progress, for in this highly competitive world only those countries will progress which establish strong knowledge economies. It is only through this mechanism that we can develop the ability to manufacture and export medium and high value-added goods. Each ministry must be led by a person who specialises in the portfolio handed over to them, and can ensure that highest priority is given to Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (ESTI). This can only happen if scholars of international eminence are ‘selected’ and not elected by the president. This is possible only in a presidential form of government where the elected president can select his team of cabinet ministers, not from parliament but from anywhere. This is the practice followed in France, America and in many other countries.

Another advantage of a presidential system of democracy is that it ensures a much better separation of powers between the legislative (parliament), the executive (government departments) and the judiciary. This is critically important for the functioning of a genuine democracy. In the present parliamentary form of government, the prime minister leads the political party in parliament, which can formulate laws suitable for the political interests of that party irrespective of how fair or rational they may be. The prime minister also appoints the heads of organisations such as NAB, FIA, SECP and State Bank among others, which result in a serious overlap of functions between the legislative and the executive

Pakistan today is at a crossroads. In the last 71 years, the country witnessed a division owing to the senior politicians’ lust for power, who refused to hand over the power to Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman after his party won the national elections held on December 7, 1970. There was considerable frustration in East Pakistan, as the people there felt that they were not getting their due share in the national wealth and had no control over the governance. The government was being controlled by those elected from the West Pakistan.

The Awami League contested the elections on the Six-Point Programme which envisaged that both the wings of Pakistan would be united in the form of a loose federation. The Awami League won a clear majority in East Pakistan, winning 160 out of a total of 300 seats in the National Assembly. In East Bengal, the Awami League won 160 out of 162 seats, while in West Pakistan, the Pakistan Peoples Party led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto secured the majority of seats. Differences arose between the government and the Awami League on the six-points. The political deadlock led to a military operation being launched and following India’s intervention, Bangladesh came into existence on December 17, 1971. Had a presidential system existed then, Sheikh Mujib would have become the president and the country would have survived and flourished as a united Pakistan.

Now almost 50 years later, we are facing another major crisis, that of the evil of feudalism preventing the growth of a genuine democratic government where there can be fair and equal access for all to opportunities of education, healthcare and national wealth. This has led to frustration in people of three out of the four provinces, and has created a situation which India and other enemies of Pakistan are trying to exploit, so as to encourage further fragmentation of this nation. The answer to these problems lies in our creating additional provinces and bringing about some basic changes in our constitution so that Pakistan could embark on the path of equitable socio-economicdevelopment.

Such a change to the presidential system can only be achieved through the installation of an interim government that carries out the much needed constitutional and electoral reforms. That is the way forward.

The writer is the former chairman of the HEC, and president of the Network of Academies of Science of OICCountries (NASIC).

Email: [email protected]

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