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Opinions of Saturday, 21 August 2021

Columnist: Samuel Baid

The itch for presidential form of government

Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan

One should not be surprised if one day Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, disgusted with his party colleagues in Parliament, begins a campaign for a change over from present parliamentary democracy to the Presidential form of government.

An indication of this effect has been given by Imran’s party, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), through interview of a lawyer in ARY recently. He said a petition had been filed in the Supreme Court to divert the Prime Minister to initiate a debate on this subject in parliament.

The lawyer said some Muslim countries including Turkey had changed over to the Presidential form of government because the parliamentary democracy caused obstructions and indiscipline. He gave a long lecture on the ills of parliamentary democracy in which the ruling party despite it numerical strength fears being toppled because of the conspiracies of its own members.

Imran Khan is terribly frustrated by the disloyalty and greed of his party colleagues. He accuses his party’s Senate members of taking crores of rupees in bribes for helping opposition candidate Yosuf Raza Geelani to win the lone Senate seat against their own party candidate. Imran tolerates these members in the party but would never forgive them.

The real threat to this government comes not from about three dozen of his party members in the National Assembly (MNAs) who are said to be under Imran’s erstwhile dirty rich sugar mafia friend Tareen. Political analysts say that Tareen has enough money power to topple Imran’s government.

But, certainly he would not do anything that the Army does not approve of (Imran has any fear of the divided opposition). His real worry is his own party. The above mentioned lawyer was saying such a threat was typical of the parliamentary government and it was not there in the Presidential system.

Since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has falteringly worked both systems at different time. Both could not work successfully because they were grounded in hypocrisy. In his August 12 address to the Constituent Assembly, the Mohammed Ali Jinnah forcefully advocated true democracy but he himself assumed Governor General’s power which nullified all the essentials of democracy. When Lord Mountbatten called it the whole reverse of the whole British concept of democracy, Mr. Jinnah replied: “Nevertheless, that’s the way I am going to run Pakistan”.

Thus the problem of democracy in Pakistan is that Mr. Jinnah founded it on the reverse of the British democracy.

Democracy had thoroughly failed when Gen Ayub Khan’s Martial law struck Pakistan in October 1958. It believed Parliamentary Democracy was unworkable in Pakistan for many reasons. The biggest reason was illiteracy and the influence of big land lords and peers and faqirs on illiterate masses. It encouraged divisive tendencies and brought the country to the verge of collapse, he wrote in his autobiography “Friends Not Masters”.

Ayub forwarded a powerful central authority.

He wrote “Muslim rule in the sub continent started to decline and the community suffered after the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s central authority weakened.

Clearly, Ayub thought a system of a powerful central Authority (or the Presidential form of government) was closer to Islamic system. Accordingly a constitution was proclaimed in 1962 envisioning a system of basic democrats comprising 80,000 members. He became a powerful president. But his un-shared and un-questioned power weakened and broke up the state.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who, after the breakup of Pakistan (December 1971) was given interim charge of Chief Martial Law Administrator-cum-President, advocated presidential form of government, which he said was closer to the Islamic system.

He advocated this just as the National Assembly started debating the 1973 constitution. The opposition, led by Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, forcefully rejected this in favor of parliamentary democracy like in India. The opposition blamed Ayub’s Presidential authority for the breakup of the country.

In case the present parliament agrees to the idea of changeover to the Presidential form of government, a referendum may be held. But, fortunately, parliament has some seasoned members who will surely try to save Pakistani from once again getting lost in the constitution-less wilderness.