Point of ViewPolitical Economy

Presidential System and all the president’s men


Nothing has worked for Pakistan. The last seven decades tell tales of hopes shattering, disappointments, economic disasters, blame games of political rivalry taken to epic proportions and above all the meaningless mudslinging of corruption. Changing the system from parliamentary democracy to presidential system is another attempt at evading continued political and economic failures.

‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ but the problem is not that power corrupts, the issue is that the struggle as to where the power must reside has ruined the country. The first 25 years of Pakistan were wasted and no constitutional formula could be agreed upon between the east and west wings. Presidential system or parliamentary, the power sharing formula between the two wings was unacceptable to the power hungry establishment of the west. The Bogra formula and other constitutional way outs were trashed by the more powerful establishment in the west.

The partition of the subcontinent was unjust. Large number of Muslim populated areas were denied to Pakistan including Kashmir. East and West Pakistan were also uniquely poised on the edge of impracticality. East Pakistan constituted the major part of the country as far as population was concerned while West Pakistan was the biggest chunk of the State in terms of land. The people of Bengal had been politically active in the Pakistan Movement. Muslim League was also formed there in 1906. After the partition they were the ones who aspired to be in control of their politically destiny. But they lacked power and the force that resided in the west. The west did not budge.

Are we heading towards the presidential system and another major political crisis?

Ayub Khan’s presidential system reigned supreme while the desperate power struggle cost Pakistan more than half its body in 1971. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto also wanted to institute a presidential system but he was clever enough to bury his ambition for his survival as a popular political figure. He nevertheless clung to power and desired more that led to his own downfall. The force took him down and ended the bud of parliamentary democracy for another eleven long years.

In Parliamentary democracy, the executive is always answerable to the legislature simply because the head of the executive, the prime minister, is elected by the legislative assembly. The idea of parliamentary democracy is to keep the power of the executive in check. The prime minister is supposed to take the parliament into confidence before making major policy decisions. Whereas, the president in a presidential system is all powerful. The checks and balances are not as direct and critical as in the parliamentary form of government.

Prime Ministers of Pakistan were never allowed to wield the full extent of their constitutional authority and power. Some of them were murdered including Liaqat Ali Khan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto while many dismissed on unsubstantiated charges of corruption. The introduction of Article 58 – 2B was a dictator’s attempt to control the prime minister.

The recent debate in favor of Presidential system is part of the final hand played by the establishment to keep things in control. In the face of political and economic strife it would be disastrous to make a major shift to the constitutional structure of the country. It would shake the country to its very foundations. There is an argument that says that democracy, parliamentary or presidential, thrives in countries where people are well educated. On the basis of this argument some people infer that in Pakistan democracy cannot work because of lack of education. The other way to look at it is that we desperately need to educate our people to grow as a nation and progress with democracy.