Tuesday January 18, 2022

Deciding on a system

December 18, 2021

A few days ago, someone forwarded a video clip to me on WhatsApp in which an analyst was terming the current system of government the root of the country's problems. According to him, there was a need to introduce such a presidential system of government in Pakistan in which the head of state is directly elected by the people.

Historically, Pakistan inherited a parliamentary system of government from the British after independence. The Constituent Assembly adopted the first constitution of Pakistan in 1956, paving the way for a parliamentary system. However, the said constitution was revoked and a presidential system was introduced in the country in which president Ayub had to seek votes directly from the people. During the presidential election campaign, complaints of all kinds of rigging and unfair means became common. Attempts to discredit Ms Fatima Jinnah are a shameful chapter in our national history. Introducing a presidential system of government failed miserably and martial law was enforced in the country.

Although the constitution of Pakistan, unanimously passed in 1973, adopted a parliamentary system of government, the rule of generals Zia and Musharraf was on the pattern of the presidential form of government due to the fact that power was vested in one person.

Internationally, most influential world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, represent a powerful presidency in their respective countries. However, the United States is considered the originator and primary example of the presidential system.

A study of the current presidential system in the world reveals some interesting facts. For example, in a presidential system of government, the office of the president has wide powers and he/she is elected for a fixed term while in a parliamentary system of government the prime minister is the head of government who is elected by the members of parliament and is accountable to parliament. The president as head of state is usually considered a non-political position in a parliamentary system and can be removed by parliamentarians.

Several countries, including the United States, Iran, Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, Brazil, Panama, South Sudan, Ghana, and Nigeria, the president has full authority and normally there is generally no prime minister. However, the prime minister's office works with the support of the president in South Korea, Belarus and Central Asian states, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Many countries, including Algeria, Portugal, Ukraine, Congo, East Timor, Egypt and France, have a premier-presidential system where the president chooses a prime minister and cabinet from parliament. Similarly, Russia, Azerbaijan, Palestine, Sri Lanka and Taiwan have a president-parliamentary system in which the president is constitutionally the head of state while the prime minister works as the head of government under the discretion of the president.

In order to review the current parliamentary system of Pakistan, several petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court, highlighting that people are being deprived of socio-economic justice in the parliamentary system. Apparently, Prime Minister Imran Khan is also not satisfied with the current system. In an interview to foreign media, he expressed his desire to bring a system of government like China. In the past, he was also a supporter of General Musharraf's presidential referendum campaign.

In my view, the presidential system is preferred in different countries because it is considered more stable and it is much easier to maintain the continuity of government policies. In our country’s parliamentary politics, the focus is always on saving the government rather than ensuring public welfare. The first priority of every government is to complete its term. Similarly, if the ruling political party does not have a majority in parliament, the sword of a no-confidence motion hangs over the head of the prime minister and smaller political parties are in a position to blackmail in this numbers game.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

He tweets @RVankwani