Which form of a system of government suits Pakistan: A presidential system or a parliamentary system? The debate on forms of government with respect to Pakistan is an old one. In this context, we have seen the presidential system as well as the parliamentary system in Pakistan. Historical data also suggests that at one point in time, Pakistan has also adopted a hybrid system having characteristics of both these systems.
Thus, in this article we will focus on the forms of government, and which system of government will be more beneficial for a progressive Pakistan.
What is the Parliamentary system of government?
The Parliamentary system of government has its origin in Great Britain. Great Britain’s system of governance is also considered a standard for the parliamentary system. Any characteristics of the parliamentary system have their source in Britain.
But theoretically speaking, in a parliamentary system, the parliament is the ultimate source of power in political affairs. In other words, the parliament is the fountain of all powers. The rest of the institutions, especially the executive, work as subordinates to and under the authority of the parliament.
Thus, there is parliamentary oversight of every state affairs. One key feature of this system is that the Chief Executive, whom we call the Prime Minister, along with his cabinet are the members of parliament. Parliament itself elects them, and parliament has the power to dismiss them through a vote of no confidence.
In the parliamentary system of government, the executives’ and legislatures’ powers are divided between the two branches of government. However, the accountability of the executives and, in severe cases, the removal of an executive also comes under the ambit of parliament. Thus, we can say that in a parliamentary system, the parliament has the supreme powers of the state.
How Presidential system is different from the parliamentary system of Government?
On the other hand, in the Presidential system, no government institution has complete control of the overall system. The president heads the executive branch, and the executive is a separate distinctive branch of the government, equal to the legislature.
Thus, parliament does the legislation and the executive enforces the decisions of the parliament. Hence, there is no need for both these institutions to be closely linked constitutionally, however, there can be coordination in political terms.
Thus, we can say that in a presidential system, there is a separation of powers between the executive and the legislative authority. Both these institutions work separately. Hence, the powers of the state are equally divided in the presidential system, whereas in the parliamentary system it relies on the parliament. This is the most basic difference between the parliamentary and presidential forms of systems.
The presidential system of government has its roots and origin in the birth of the United States of America, where for the first time the constitutional presidential system was adopted in 1788.
There is a general misconception that in the presidential system, all the powers relies with the President. This is not the case, President has the powers but only in the domain of the executive. In the domain of legislation, the President has no power and the ultimate powers reside with the legislature.
So which system of government is better for Pakistan?
Those people who support the Presidential system argue that Pakistan for most of its history Pakistan has remained a parliamentary democracy. During this time period, the parliamentary system has not delivered stability and failed to ensure the political-economic development in the country.
Most of the proponents of this system are of the view that the parliamentary system is not good for Pakistan, as evident from history, and therefore, Pakistan should move towards the Presidential system.
Probability of Success with the Presidential System?
Proponents of the presidential system are of the view that there are certain things on the basis of which the parliamentary system is ranked better than the Presidential system. However, in the case of Pakistan, one cannot scrap the possibility of success of the Presidential system on this basis as this system itself has not been tested well enough when compared to the parliamentary system.
Some people draw parallels between the Presidential system and the religion of Islam. They argue that Pakistan being the Islamic Republic should adopt the presidential system as it is closer to the Muslim’s Khilafat System of government.
Looking at the Issue from the lenses of a Political Scientist
If we looked at this discussion from the lenses of a political scientist then we can say that no system is perfect. There are certain advantages of the parliamentary system as well as certain disadvantages. Similar is the case with the presidential system.
Thus, different states around the globe adopt the system of governance based on their political culture, history, and preferences. Sometimes, states modifications to these systems of government to meet their own needs.
For instance, if we see the governance structure of China or France. Both these countries have not adopted parliamentary/presidential forms of government in strict form. They have modified the system into a hybrid form of government, adopting positives from both systems.
The real question is whether the sort of governance structure that the country adopts is in accordance with the history, political culture, and norms of that state or not? Thus, if we approach the problem from this angle, we can say that the parliamentary system suits more to Pakistan keeping in view the political history, culture, and norms of the country. Different factors are involved in this argument.
Why Parliamentary system of government Suits Pakistan?
There are certain reasons on the basis of which we can say that the parliamentary system of government favors Pakistan more than the Presidential system.
Pakistan’s Historical Experience discourages the Presidential system of government
After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Pakistan was part of the federal parliamentary system. Although there was an office of the Governor-General, but officially Pakistan was part of the parliamentary system. Since Pakistan was a colony of Great Britain, therefore, after independence, Pakistan adopted and continued the same parliamentary system.
Similarly, the first constitution of Pakistan was also parliamentary in nature, however, the President was also given excessive powers under the first constitution. Nevertheless, to some extent, Pakistan was part of a parliamentary system.
As a result of the shortcomings of this parliamentary constitution, martial law was imposed in Pakistan in 1958. Ayub Khan, the then martial law administrator, later on, formed a commission for the identification of shortcomings associated with the parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. The commission informed that the parliamentary system is not suitable for the dynamics of Pakistan.
First Presidential System of Pakistan
Hence, in 1962, a Presidential form of government was introduced with the constitution of 1962 under President Ayub. The office of the President was made so powerful that instead of a theoretical presidential system it had become a hyper-presidential system.
Since the maker of the 1962 constitution was Ayub Khan himself, obviously, he inserted such provisions into the constitution that make the office of the President supreme even to the parliament.
Thus, the spirit of the Presidential system –separation of powers, and checks and balances—was undermined in 1962. As a result of this misuse of power, the historical experience shows that there were grievances among the smaller provinces of Pakistan like Balochistan, East-Pakistan, and interior Sindh. Consequentially, the East-Pakistan breaks from Pakistan and becomes a new country in the aftermath of this.
We cannot solely blame the Presidential system for the 1971 debacle as there were numerous other factors. However, the Presidential system had played a role in the dismemberment of Pakistan.
Making this argument as their basis, the political leadership mostly opposes the presidential system in Pakistan. Thus, the historical experience suggests that the presidential system has posed threat to the territorial security of Pakistan, and if imposed again, it will again endanger the security of Pakistan. Hence, the parliamentary system is favored instead of the Presidential system.
The Federal Structure of Pakistan is not Suitable for the Presidential System of government
Pakistan is a federation, and there are four provinces. In each of these provinces, the population is very unevenly distributed. Punjab has the absolute majority in terms of population, whereas Balochistan is sparsely populated. Thus, there is a massively uneven distribution.
In this state of affairs, if Pakistan implements a Presidential system, then no matter whether the voting of the executive is carried out directly or indirectly, the majority province will have a defining weight in the ultimate election of the chief executive. In this context, the probability for a person to be elected from Balochistan, Interior Sindh, or KPK will be so minimal.
Thus, except for Punjab, the rest of the provinces of Pakistan will have a minimum say in the election of the president. The population of Punjab will have a decisive role, which may compromise federal harmony. Moreover, there is already a sense of deprivation and disparity existing among the smaller provinces which might get aggravated in event of the Presidential system.
The lack of National and Abundance of Multiple Regional Political Parties
Furthermore, it is evident from the history of Pakistan there are very few national political parties. The national parties that exist have a very restricted mandate to some constituencies or some provinces. The regional political parties have a significant say in the political arena of Pakistan. As Pakistan has multiple political parties. If the Presidential system is implemented, then the role of regional and multiple parties will get limited only to the legislature, and they will not have any say in the executive function.
In other words, the regional parties will no longer have any representation in the executive. In the cabinet, the parties of the smaller provinces will be wiped out completely. As we know that in the smaller provinces, those regional parties are the only source of the political ventilation for the grievances of the people of those provinces. If those people are denied representation in the Presidential system, then it can lead to fragmentation and national disintegration of Pakistan.
Immature Political Parties are Unfit for Presidential System
Another reason not to support the presidential system is that throughout most of Pakistan’s political history, the parliament remained in a hung state (hung parliament). In 1970, Pakistan had its first general election, and in 2018, Pakistan had its most recent election. Throughout this time period, there were only two times when such a government was formed when any such party attained an absolute majority.
First, it was in 1997, when Nawaz Sharif got two-third majority in the national assembly of Pakistan. Second, in 2013, when the PMLN government again got the absolute majority in the parliament. Thus, for most of history, there was a hung parliament in which a major party along with a coalition of smaller parties forms the government. This makes the law-making process easier.
Hung Parliament and Heterogenous Society
In a hung parliament, where a government is made up of a mixture of large and small regional parties, what is the basic motivation for a smaller party to support a larger party? There are two basic reasons. First, the smaller parties can legislate for their areas or constituencies along with the majority party. Second, smaller parties get a share in the cabinet (executive).
As a result of this, these parties can turn the focus of the executive to their smaller regions (provinces). Thus, the government has to invest in the development of these areas. It becomes a compulsion for the government to do so.
This significantly reduces the disparity among the smaller provinces as they get a share in the government. Moreover, they are able to play a role in the legislature as well as in the executive. By contrast, if we go to the Presidential system, the role of these smaller parties will be completely wiped out from the executive.
The executive will keep their focus on the larger constituencies from which their electoral strength comes. Thus, there will be a massive sense of deprivation, and disparity will grow further. The smaller provinces will feel alienated, and this will be harmful to the national integrity of Pakistan.
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Hung Parliament and Law Making
Whenever there is a hung parliament then compromises have to be made, among different parties, in order to do legislation. Otherwise, law-making is not possible because why would any party support the majority party unless they are given something in return?
However, in the presidential system where the executive and legislature are separated, how will the majority party will cajole smaller parties in favor of law-making when they do not have something for them in return from the executive? In this state of affairs, political parties make laws by consensus for the sake of national interest.
In the case of Pakistan, this consensus for the sake of national interest is usually absent among the political parties, and there is no political maturity, at most times. Since there is no tradition of political maturity for national interest among political parties, therefore, it will pose threat to Pakistan’s interest in the long term. When political parties will be unable to reach a consensus, law-making will not take place.
Thus, these are some of the key points on the basis of which experts argue that the parliamentary system, with all its faults, is still better than the Presidential system for Pakistan. The parliamentary system of government still makes sure that the national solidarity, integrity, and economic development across the country shall not be compromised.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s View
Prime Minister Imran Khan recently held an interactive session with Pakistani commoners on Twitter Space. A person asked him about the implementation of the Presidential system in Pakistan. Imran khan responded that the parliamentary system is successful only in those countries where there is moral maturity.
An allegation of corruption is unbearable in such societies, and people commit suicide from the embarrassment. When there is no moral maturity in the political representation of the country, the parliamentary system is a failure unless the government has a two-third majority with the morally mature politicians. Thus, the presidential system is a good alternative to address such issues if implemented with proper checks and balances.
The parliamentary system might not be suitable for Pakistan, but compared to the Presidential system, this is the best that we have. So, instead of experimenting with a new system of government, Pakistan first should create a mature political culture that later shall be able to support the experimentation. Until that happens, the parliamentary system is most suitable for Pakistan.