Saturday May 28, 2022

For a presidential democracy

In a handwritten note dated July 10, 1947 Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah wrote: “Dangers of Parliamentary Form of Government: 1) Parliamentary form of government – it has worked satisfactorily so far in England nowhere else; 2) Presidential form of government (more suited to Pakistan)”. Our Quaid realised 68 years ago

September 23, 2015
In a handwritten note dated July 10, 1947 Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah wrote: “Dangers of Parliamentary Form of Government: 1) Parliamentary form of government – it has worked satisfactorily so far in England nowhere else; 2) Presidential form of government (more suited to Pakistan)”. Our Quaid realised 68 years ago that the feudal landlords would not allow democracy to function due to vested interests. It turns out that he was absolutely right.
Today, Pakistan is suffering from three interconnected problems: the stranglehold of a corrupt feudal system; massive illiteracy due to this feudal stranglehold; and the absence of an effective judicial system that has failed to catch the corrupt who continue to loot and plunder at will. These three factors have prevented Pakistan from making any significant progress in the last 68 years in comparison to other South Asian countries.
There are three main forms of democracy: Direct democracy, presidential democracy and parliamentary democracy. In direct democracy, exemplified by Switzerland, the president can be appointed from among the federal ministers for a defined time period. The federal ministers are chosen directly from among the most competent persons in society. In the presidential form of democracy, as exemplified by the US and France, the president has the status of both head of state and head of government. He is directly elected by the people and he then selects his own team of federal ministers from the most competent persons in their respective fields.
In the parliamentary system of democracy, as in Pakistan, the prime minister is the head of government. The ministers are appointed only from parliament, and if there is a weak opposition, then there are few checks and balances against corruption. The heads of organisations such as NAB, FIA, FBR, State Bank etc are usually cronies appointed by the government in power so that they can turn a blind eye to the massive corruption that goes on

under their noses. Even the FIA has been made helpless to catch senior government officials for cooperation.
The FIA had proposed an amendment to the Inquiry and Investigation Rules in February 2011 allowing it to register cases and arrest officers of Grade 22 without prior permission from the Federal Anti-Corruption Committee (FACC). However, no action has been taken on it by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, despite four years having gone by.
The present form of democracy in Pakistan is a dirty business where seats are won by ‘investing’ millions, and the corrupt that get elected then go about systematically plundering billions. The 18th Amendment has weakened Pakistan as additional funds given to provinces have ended up in corruption and in promoting terrorism.
According to Amnesty International, about Rs8,500 billion were lost to corruption in the first four years of the last regime during 2008-2011. About 250 of our parliamentarians, including members of the national and provincial assemblies and senators, shamelessly forged their degrees to get elected. The PML-N has not taken action against any of those involved in these forgeries or in the mega corruption cases, in spite of previous election promises. It is only due to General Raheel Sharif that some action has finally begun though the big fish are yet to be caught and punished. His tenure must be extended so that the accountability process continues.
So what is the way forward? I recommend basic changes in the system of democracy. The presidential system of democracy should be introduced so that the president is elected directly by a general vote and he/she is the Chief Executive. Powers and finances should be transferred to the grassroots by local bodies elections, and additional provinces should be created to ensure improved governance. The president should appoint his own team of top technocrats in the country as ministers with each ministry backed by a powerful think tank composed of the best experts in the respective fields.
A proportionate representation system should be introduced so that the representatives in parliament are proportional to the votes cast and elections must be held by electronic voting as in India. The role of parliament should be confined to law-making and oversight of national affairs, and parliamentarians should not be eligible to be appointed as ministers. This will eliminate corrupt persons who enter politics to steal public money.
The credentials of presidential candidates, ministers, governors and other important government officials must be first approved for suitability by a ‘Committee of Elders’ who should all be non-political and highly respected persons to ensure integrity and competence. The Supreme Court should select a 17-member committee initially, and the committee can later choose any replacements. Eighty percent of the members of parliament must have a first class Masters degree (in the Islamic Republic of Iran 100 percent must have a Masters degree), so that they can properly discharge their primary function of law-making.
There need to be real electoral reforms. The members of the Election Commission are presently nominated by the political parties. This is nonsense. They should be appointed by the chief justices of the Supreme Court and high courts from persons of unquestionable integrity, ensuring that do not have any political affiliations. The Election Commission should appoint the Returning Officers, who should work directly under it.
Army personnel should be posted inside election camps to ensure that there is no stuffing of ballot boxes with fake votes. A national education emergency should be declared and education given at least five percent of GDP, rising to eight percent over five years. Primary and secondary education should be declared compulsory and parents who don’t send their children to school should be sent to jail. A National Education Service requiring two years mandatory service for all graduating students needs to be introduced. Degrees should only be awarded after completion of this service period.
The justice system should be revamped so that all cases are decided in 3-6 months and all backlog cleared in 12 months. The purview of military courts should be extended to corruption as corruption and terrorism are interlinked. Capital punishment should be introduced for corruption beyond Rs10 million. Plea bargaining by NAB should be banned and strictest punishments awarded to the corrupt.
Genuine land reforms should be carried out and agriculture tax introduced to increase tax collection. The FBR should be completely reformed as according to our former finance minister Shaukat Tareen, some Rs500 billion are lost annually because of corruption by FBR officials.
How can all this be done? The majority of the present parliamentarians, who are a part of the problem, would certainly not want this. The judiciary, the army and the sensible elements in political parties would need to make this happen through an interim technocrat government. The army should have a formal role in the new democratic system, as in Turkey, to prevent any future martial law regimes.

The writer is a former federal minister and former chairman of the HEC. He is also chairman of the FPCCI Committee on Higher Education, Science & Technology.