Why Pakistan Needs Presidential System
28 Jan, 2019
The winds of change are blowing forcefully through our great nation. They promise to root out corruption, punish those involved and bring a new dawn where justice and merit will prevail. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s dream, which was dying a slow death, may come true.
This provides an opportunity for us to reflect and plan ahead for a new beginning. We must build a nation where meritocracy can prevail and those indulging in nepotism and cronyism are taken to task. We should build a nation where education gets the highest national priority so that we can realise the true potential of the country.
There are over 100 million people below the age of 20 and our future lies in their hands. However, this potential has been grossly neglected in the past because the power base of the corrupt would begin to erode if the country developed a highly educated and discerning population. We should also build a country where the focus of the government is on developing a knowledge economy for socio-economic development. The fourth industrial revolution is upon us. As a result, countries investing in biotechnology, nanotechnology, new materials, artificial intelligence, energy storage systems, regenerative medicine, engineering goods and other emerging fields will be propelled forward while the rest will be left far behind.
To achieve these goals, we need visionary leadership and a system of governance that was envisaged by Quaid-e-Azam. Realising the strong influence of landlords in the country, Jinnah had written in his personal diary in 1947 that a parliamentary system won’t work in Pakistan. He was in favour of implementing a presidential system of governance. This handwritten note is available in the Jinnah Papers in Islamabad and has been reproduced in a book titled ‘The Jinnah Anthology’. Most people are unaware of our founder’s preference for a presidential system. Therefore, the matter ought to be debated at the national level.
The presidential system of democracy is often confused with the presidential rules that we have had in Pakistan. These were dictatorships and the presidents who came into power and weren’t elected through open and fair elections. There are countless advantages of a presidential system of democracy. First, it operates on a far better system of separation of power among the three pillars of the governance system: the legislature (federal and provincial assemblies); the executive (ministries and other organs); and the judiciary.
A major problem with the current parliamentary form of democracy is that the prime minister heads parliament and approves the appointment of the heads of organisations that fall within the executive – the police, NAB, FIA, FBR, SECP and the State Bank. This obvious overlap between the legislature and the executive results in nepotism and cronyism. Corruption in our country is an outcome of these appointments.
The second major advantage of a presidential system is that ministers are selected directly from the pool of experts in the country and there is no need for them to be elected. Third, the role of parliament is restricted to law-making and oversight. Since large funds are no longer at the disposal of MPs, corruption is eliminated. Dishonest people are subsequently not interested in spending crores to get elected to a national body where there are no opportunities to gain illegal financial kickbacks.
Moreover, transparent and public debates can take place between presidential candidates on national television that allows the public to determine the acumen of candidates and assess their stance on key issues such as alleviation of poverty; increased agricultural growth; the development of an inclusive and equitable knowledge economy; foreign policy; education strategies; and other important national issues. Moreover, a proportionate system of representation in parliament needs to be introduced so that political parties can truly represent the population and the tyranny of a minority ruling over a majority can be avoided.
Over the last decade, our national debt has risen from $37 billion to about $93 billion, bringing the country to its knees before our foreign masters. The money borrowed has largely ended up in the foreign assets of the corrupt while poverty continues to increase. Our debt is forcing us to dance to the tune of the IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The plundered national wealth must be brought back and those who are responsible for such misdemeanours should be held accountable.
We can’t expect the country to make a new beginning through an interim government that exists for a few months to just hold elections. Continuing on the same path spells disaster. The interim government should be installed for a period of at least three to five years. During this period, it should carry out major governance reforms before holding the next elections.
These reforms should include the complete revision of the framework and mandate of the Election Commission of Pakistan so that its primary task is to carry out a thorough and careful scrutiny of candidates nominated by political parties. This should be done in close consultation with national agencies to ensure that only the best people in the country are selected. The members of the Election Commission of Pakistan must not be nominated by political parties. They should instead be nominated by a judicial committee to ensure neutrality and independence.
The winds of change are blowing through Pakistan and our youth are optimistic that the country will soon become what Quaid-e-Azam had envisaged. These winds of change must sweep the system clean of those who have looted and plundered at will. The country has already been torn into two halves in the past by its power-hungry leaders. However, the huge youth bulge in Pakistan presents a window of opportunity that we must not miss. The responsibility of setting things right rests with each one of us and we must rise to the challenge
The writer is the former chairman of the HEC, and president of the Network of Academies of Science of OIC Countries (NASIC).