The writer is an
analyst and the
President of all
The constitution of a country sets a broad framework in which to make laws, rules, and regulations to organize the life of the people, at both the collective and the individual levels. The tone of a constitution defines how a country views its past, determines its present, and envisions its future. In Pakistan, the constitution was introduced on August 14, 1973 – and amended on many occasions afterward. Economic progress is inextricably linked with democracy and political stability in today’s Pakistan. Unfortunately, due to a dysfunctional democracy and prevailing political instability, Pakistan faces multiple economic and security crises today. The country is on the verge of bankruptcy and real incomes are being rapidly eroded by crushing high inflation. Several countries have suffered several interventions, but those that transitioned to becoming fully functioning democracies achieved sustained inclusive economic growth and social progress by valued reforms. South Korea, Indonesia, Turkey, Bangladesh, and several Latin American countries are its examples. A vibrant democracy is a prerequisite for inclusive economic growth and social progress. The current constitutional imbroglio warrants that the document needs to be revisited and rewritten in accordance with the altered situation and ground realities. A constitution that has so many lacunas and loopholes that can be exploited and interpreted to its own benefit, needs to be redone. The constitution of Pakistan should be rewritten for the benefit of Pakistan, and preferably the system of government should be defined as not formed through politics or elections but through the process of Meritocracy. In historical terms, the earliest constitutions, such as the Constitution of the United States, are fairly simple and bare documents. However, there is a rich constitutional jurisprudence that has emerged from them over time. England doesn’t have one and its laws and governance are constantly improving. The traditional unwritten British constitution is quite peculiar and stands out among all other historical examples of constitutionalism. Post-colonial countries have much more detailed constitutions and seek to define, in elaborate terms, principles of policy and fundamental rights, as well as the structure of government. India and Pakistan constitutions are the longest in the world. But that is not a panacea for constitutional roadblocks. We really need to focus on its developing constitutional norms which are ultimately a function of the way we view and structure politics. If a constitution is supposed to provide guiding principles then these should be framed in a language that makes them practicable. Democracy Index’s global ranking in 2022 landed Pakistan at the 115th 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 240 million people and it may reach 403 million by 2050. With one of the world’s largest youth populations, at 65%, the country is ranked 122nd out of 190 countries in the world in terms of quality and accessibility of health care. As 30% 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 pressure the government for their own interests. That’s why most governments have to use the power of the president to promulgate ordinances frequently.
Pakistan needs a new constitution for the Presidential System. The majority of the developed states United States of America, Russia, China, France, etc. are ruling their states with the Presidential form of government. The parliamentary system is mostly used in third-world countries. The 8th Amendment turned Pakistan into a semi-presidential republic and in the period between 1985 and 2010, the executive power was shared by the president and prime minister. The 18th Amendment in 2010 restored Parliamentary Democracy in the country and reduced the presidency to a ceremonial position. In a handwritten note of Quid e AZAM Muhammad Ali Jinnah dated July 10, 1947, Quid e AZAM wrote that the parliamentary form of government had worked satisfactorily in England and nowhere else, “Presidential form of government is more suited to Pakistan,”. Unlike the USA, after the partition of the Subcontinent, the constitution-making process was not a matter of reflection and choice but depended on vicissitudes of time and power politics. We were unable to come out of the lasting spell of the Government of India Act, 1935 which remained the constitution of Pakistan till the framing and enforcement of the first Constitution of Pakistan in 1956. The 1973 Constitution, though it declared itself a federal state with a parliamentary government at the center, was a result of limited choices. It is true that Pakistan has experienced different kinds of governments; from democracy to military dictatorship, to civilian martial law by Z.A. Bhutto but governance was construed as a seminal issue. Given the current political scenario, the presidential system is not perilous for democracy but, in reality, it is a threat to the vested interest of the corrupt political elite of our country. Those who hold that the presidential system failed in the past should not ignore the fact that the previous models of the presidency were introduced to this country by military dictators who had designed them according to their own requirements to perpetuate themselves in power. It is erroneous to equate the presidential system with dictatorship as those are completely different. Like parliamentary democracy, the presidential system is a democratic system. In the presidential system, the president is elected either directly by the people or through an electoral college which makes the executive power concentrated in his office. The president derives his authority from the Constitution and law, unlike the dictator. The president is elected for a definite period of time but that is not the case with dictatorship. The US Constitution is regarded as the father of the presidential system of government. It worked well over the last more than two centuries and is considered one of the main reasons for building the USA into a strong nation and eventually into a world power in the 20th century. The US constitutional model has been followed in the 82 countries that came under US influence in the 19th and 20th centuries. The US Constitution revolves around the doctrine of Separation of Powers coupled with the system of Checks and Balances. The American Constitution divides the governmental power into legislative, executive, and judicial categories. It is also pertinent to mention here that under the presidential form of government, the president cannot act capriciously, arbitrarily, or according to his own personal whims. His actions are subject to scrutiny either by the parliament or judiciary depending upon the model of the presidency. The Congress in the USA has the power to impeach the president on the grounds of conviction, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. It can refuse to ratify a treaty negotiated by the president. The US Supreme Court can declare a presidential action as repugnant to the Constitution if the same is true vires the Constitution. It is clear from this discussion that the president cannot go beyond the sphere of powers allotted to him by the Constitution and law. In the presidential system, the president is elected by the people directly which makes the power concentrated in his office. It preserves the head of the government from the fear of being ousted by the opposition which leads to a focus on public development and service delivery. This lack of fear also entails the depoliticization of administration; talented and skilled manpower is sought to ensure efficient service delivery as the president must maintain his popularity with the masses. In the parliamentary system, there is no separation of powers between legislature and government. The political executive, chosen from the legislators, holds the real executive power and hence manipulates legislation. Therefore, laws are inevitably made by the government rather than the parliament. This paradoxically transforms democracy into an elected dictatorship. The representation of the whole of Pakistan somehow couldn’t be represented. In the parliamentarian system, there is a concept that who so ever province has more population will form the government. Rooted in the British colonial legacy, the parliamentary system of government has continued to fail. Given Pakistan’s political realities, the presidential system might deliver better results, as the presidential system is far better than for Pakistan rather than the parliamentarian system. Under the presidential system, the president is the de jure as well as the de facto head of the country’s administration. The president enjoys complete discretion in selecting those people as ministers who possess the potential to discharge the duties of their respective portfolios effectively and ably. The selection pool is vast and not confined to parliamentarians. The political executive, thus chosen, represents cross-sections of society. The unelected ministers are neither motivated by short-term populist measures, nor bound by party compromises, and concentrate on chalking out policies for long-term national goals. The ministers completely devote their energies to the country’s development rather than wasting their time in endless politics and conciliations. Another important advantage of the presidential system is that party discipline is maintained, with fewer chances of desertion. They thus pay full attention to the business of legislation along with focusing on strengthening the constitutional framework and rule of law.
It’s high time that a referendum must be called in Pakistan on the question of adoption of the new constitution of presidential or parliamentary form of government.
In a holistic view, the federation always runs on three vital elements, Confidence, Representation, and trust. Trust is for ensuring the political parties that they are eligible to run the state, representation is to fulfill the demands of people that they are represented and confidence is in the institutions so they can sustain the system. If people in Pakistan want presidential democracy, it can be introduced through a constitutional amendment or rewrite of the constitution. Parliament can amend the constitution with two-thirds majorities of its Houses. A referendum can also be held under Article 48 of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 which reads “If 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 Parliament and if it is approved in 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’”. Given the current political scenario, the presidential system is not perilous for democracy but, in reality, it is a threat to the vested interest of the corrupt political elite of our country. Although the process of amending the Constitution is described in Articles 238 and 239. Although major reforms are required for the Presidential system in Pakistan. Presidents should be the sole man with supreme authority and he should be sharing the power with Senate only. Whereas the Senate representatives should be selected by the General Elections. Every state should have an equal number of seats so the representation should be on an equality. When all the senators would have been selected then there should be a general election through which the President should be selected for the nation of Pakistan. These reforms should be followed in order to make Pakistan more progressive and sustained. Times have changed, and not just for the proletariat and bourgeoisie. Even the new generation of landed and mercantile class admits that Pakistan’s political system is not only rotten but delivers poorly on governance. The future of Pakistan should be above partisan politics. Nothing is more important than our quest for a stable representative system that delivers democracy and good governance right down to the grassroots. What Pakistan needs today is effective and efficient local governance, a less burdensome system accessible to the citizens, and better and transparent institutions so people can rely on them — simply replacing governments and not fixing institutions will not eradicate corruption, but rather add to it. Changing its model of government to the presidential system is the best way to ensure a democracy that works in Pakistan. Therefore, it is high time that a referendum be called in Pakistan on the question of the adoption of the new constitution of a presidential or parliamentary form of government and let it be decided by the citizens.