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April 21, 2019

No quick fix


April 21, 2019

It is always tempting to put forward instant answers to any problem. This has been the undoing of one Pakistani leader after the other. Unable to offer the good governance and competent leadership that people so urgently need, these leaders, beginning with Field Marshal Ayub Khan and continued through to Pervez Musharraf, have thought that a presidential system would somehow magically take away the instability faced by the country. This is essentially a myth. There is no reason to believe that a presidential system, which again we assume would be moored by a parliament of one kind or the other, would in any way be more effective than the parliamentary setup we are accustomed to. The parliamentary system is perhaps also better suited to a complex federation like ours, made up of diverse provincial entities and regions. The generally more autocratic presidential system allows less room for opinion sharing and debate. In the eyes of some, this may be a good thing. But speaking from an analytical point of view, it has in the past brought disaster. We need to bring all the people of the country into the process of decision-making, through their representatives, if we are to create a country that is unified.

We must also keep in mind that while there may be suggestions, rumours, conjecture that a presidential system in one form or the other may again be on the drafting board, the current parliament does not have the power to change the system of the country. To do so, it would first of all need to scrap the 1973 constitution, the essential foundation on which Pakistan’s political system today stands. There is also no evidence from our history that autocratic rule in any form has been successful in resolving the multifaceted issues faced by our democracy. Instead, we should remember that even though this requires patience and perhaps a degree of stoicism, we need to allow the current system to roll on and, as it does so, smooth out its own flaws. This cannot happen overnight. It is for the people to themselves determine what kind of representation they want and in time allow for new, more able leaders to emerge from what is undoubtedly a faltering set up. In this context, it is also crucial that sweeping changes not be made. Doing away with the 18th Amendment may not go down well in the provinces. Rather than hitting the nostalgia button for a system that never worked, the more painstaking task of building up democracy via a representative system needs to be the task at this moment.

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