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Question of adoption of the presidential form of government


Jan 21, 2022

The writer is an

economist, anchor,

analyst and the

President of all

 Pakistan Private

Schools’ Federation


The introduction of a presidential form of government in Pakistan through a constitutional amendment or a referendum is not an easy task. The Constitution, in Article 48 (6) the provision of seeking approval of the joint parliamentary session to hold a referendum, to achieve any objective has become very difficult due to the 18th Amendment. To change the form of government from Parliamentary to Presidential, the government has to elect a constituent assembly or scrap the existing constitution and bring a new one. It cannot be changed by holding a simple referendum. Even if the government bypasses the Constitution and decides to go to the public through a referendum, it has to get parliament’s approval first before going to the public. The ruling coalition, cannot get any resolution or bill passed from the joint sitting of Parliament.

Before the 18th Amendment, Parliament under Article 48 (6) of the Constitution was authorized to lay down a procedure for holding the referendum, compiling and consolidating the result of a referendum. However, Clause 6 of Article 48 was modified in the 18th constitutional Amendment by adding certain barriers to holding any referendum. After 18th Amendment Article 48 (6) now reads, “If at any time the Prime Minister considers it necessary to hold a referendum on any matter of national importance, he may refer the matter to a joint sitting of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) and if it is approved in a joint sitting, the Prime Minister may cause such matter to be referred to a referendum in the form of a question that is capable of being answered by either “Yes” or “No”. 

From the government of India Act till today, the constitutional dispensation of this region is based on federal and parliamentary systems. In 1962 we adopted a more or less presidential form of government under Ayub Khan’s authoritarian regime, which benefited not only the masses but also the development of the country. History tells us that the people of Pakistan have struggled for the perseverance of parliamentary form of government, but due to the corruption and feudal system, it couldn’t deliver. We have to accept the reality that Pakistan is a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual state. This type of state can only be represented through the presidential form of government. The parliamentary form of government engulfed the polarization between the provinces. The existing system has failed to deliver. It will be disastrous for the federation if we didn’t introduce a presidential form of government to replace the Parliamentary. form of government has no scope in Pakistan. Although the process of amending the Constitution is described in Articles 238 and 239. After the 18th Amendment now, If the joint session of Parliament gave approval of that question then the government can hold the referendum in the country. The Supreme Court of Pakistan termed four as a basic pillar of the Constitution including (i) Parliamentary form of government, (ii) Federalism, (iii) Islamic way of Life, and (iv) Democratic dispensation. If you have to alter the basic structure of the constitution then you have to elect a constituent assembly only for introducing the amendment. Parliamentary form of government established a monopoly of the most populated provinces. The population of Punjab is far greater than the rest of the country, this resulted from the always confrontation between the provinces which is harming the federation.

it is high time that a referendum must be called in Pakistan on the question of adoption of the presidential or parliamentary form of government and let it be decided by the citizens.

Since the majority of the developed states are being run through the Presidential system, for instance, the United States of America, Russia, China, France, Turkey, etc. The parliamentary system is mostly used in third-world countries. Britain has been exercising the parliamentary system for the last 200 years, where the nation is 100% educated with a fully disciplined life in dealing and regarding the rule of law. The demographic and ethnic divide of Pakistani society was so deep that it will never accept the presidential form of government. Besides the Government of India Act 1935, Pakistan inherited penal laws and its procedural code from the British legal system; along with Sharia laws, this has in effect formed a hybrid legal system within the country. The confused state of laws and uncertainty for the common man to ask for redressal has delayed justice. Democracy Index’s global ranking in 2020 landed Pakistan at the 105th position among 165 independent nations and was still considered a Hybrid Regime. Out of the four types of regimes: full democracy; flawed democracy; hybrid regime or authoritarian regime. The country has become the sixth most populous country in the world with an estimated population of 230 million people and it may reach 403 million by 2050. With one of the world’s largest youth populations, as 65%, the country is ranked as 122nd out of 190 countries in the world in terms of quality and accessibility of health care. As 25% of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line, the average human development index and the GDP are the lowest as compared to other South Asian countries, and behind all these, one of the chief reasons is Pakistan’s fragile political system. In our parliamentary system, members of parliament change their loyalties and are out to blackmail and pressurize the government for their own interests. That’s why most governments have to use the power of the president to promulgate ordinances frequently.

If the government tried to introduce the presidential system through a referendum it will not succeed because the ruling alliance lacks a majority in National Assembly and the Senate. According to Rule 72 of the rules and procedures of Parliament, “all decisions at a joint sitting shall be taken by the votes of a majority of members present and voting”. The question is whether the government has a majority in both Houses of Parliament, and all the previous referendums were held in dictatorial regimes. Can the civilian government win a referendum, it is yet to be seen. But the time has come that Pakistan must adopt the presidential form of government and sack the parliamentary system. The foremost reason is that in the presidential system the head of state is usually elected through a direct election. So, the citizens would have a much clear option to choose the one as their leader. Moreover, the stability of government is another advantage—and that Pakistan needs the most. Because opposition parties would not be able to blackmail, like here, to displace the government by hook or by crook, where unstable coalitions, demanding minority parties, votes of no confidence, threats of such votes, etc make the effective policy-making and implementation near to impossible. And it is prima facie in our country that the Prime Minister is being always tried to be contained in a continuous threat that he may lose his position solely because his party may at anytime lose requisite seats in parliament, even though he may still be popular nationally. The presidential system will allow for the separation of powers in a true sense, as the legislature will be a completely different structure and institution. And thereby, an effective system of checks and balances will also be placed in governance. Besides, by adopting the presidential system, the president will have more powers to work speedily and effectively; thereby uniform policy-making along with uniform policy implementation will also bring positive outcomes to subdue the parochial and racial discrimination. Therefore, it is high time that a referendum must be called in Pakistan on the question of adoption of the presidential or parliamentary form of government and let it be decided by the citizens.

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