Which system: Presidential or parliamentary?
Amjed Jaaved
6/20/2019

 

Systems don’t matter as much as people
General Zia was enamoured of the presidential system. He claimed that the Quaid-i-Azam had opted for this system in a note in his diary. What was the Quaid’s note? The handwritten note dated July 10, 1947 states: “Dangers of Parliamentary Form of Government: 1) Parliamentary form of government– it has worked satisfactorily so far in England nowhere else; 2) Presidential form of government (more suited to Pakistan)”. But, in true context. The Quaid did not expect elected governments could be dismissed under a presidential system. While speaking in the Indian Central Assembly on the colonial government’s decision to punish the officers of the Indian National Army, the Quaid said: “…when the time comes, my army in Pakistan shall, without doubt, maintain all loyalty, whatever the liability, and if anyone did not do so, be he a soldier or be he an officer or civilian, he will go the same way as William Joyce and John Amery.” (The two members of the English elite, the latter a son of the secretary of state for India, were executed for supporting Hitler during the Second World War).

The Quaid may have had the subconscious worry that feudal landlords in a parliamentary system would not allow democracy to function. The landlords in Punjab and Sindh always supported the Unionist party. They switched over to the Muslim League as the Congress had vowed to follow socialist secular policies.

In Pakistan, it is the vested interests, not demos (people) of demo-kratia, who rule. There is no social democracy

In India, feudal fiefs were abolished in 1948. But, they have a heyday in Pakistan even today because of a decision of the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the case of the Qazalbash Waqf versus Chief Land Commissioner, Punjab, on 10 August 1989 (made effective from 23 March 1990). The Court, by a 3-2 vote declared land reforms un-Islamic and repugnant to injunctions of Islam.

Jamsheed Marker, in his book Cover Point, observed ‘Liaquat … moved the Objectives Resolution, which declared Pakistan to be an ‘Islamic State’”. Liaquat Ali Khan could not foresee that Objectives Resolution (Allah’s sovereignty) would be warped to justify perpetuation of feudal aristocracy and persecution of minorities.

Under Article 38 (f) and Senate’s resolution No. 393 (9 July 2018), the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan enforced Shariah Governance Regulations 2018 for abolition of riba. Gnawing reality of complex interest-based economics forced the government to continue paying interest on loans and international transactions notwithstanding.

No social justice

Article 38 is titled ‘Promotion of social and economic well-being of the people’. And abolition of riba is just a sub-paragraph. While we re-christened riba as PLS, partnership as modarba/mosharika, and so on, we did nothing to provide social justice to the people. We tax people without taxpayers’ welfare. Locke and others say government can’t tax without taxpayer’s consent.

Quest for stability

Neither the presidential nor the parliamentary form of government is a bulwark against instability. We have witnessed budgetary shutdowns and locking of horns even in the US presidential system.

Pakistan’s demokratia practitioners are subconsciously contemptuous of separation of powers. The stakeholders appear to suffer from ‘I’m the constitution’ narcissism. They ‘glistened’ our constitution with ‘golden’ interpolation of a president in uniform, and another a life-long president. We had a civilian martial-law administrator also. Former finance secretary Saeed Ahmed Qureshi in his book Governance Deficit: A Case Study of Pakistani recounts ‘Eight blows to the Constitutional System’ including dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, dismissal of elected prime ministers, induction of Gen Ayub Khan as defence minister on 24 October 1954, and imposition of martial or quasi-martial law ‘for 33 out of Pakistan’s 68 years of history’.

I’m-the-Constitution syndrome?

Our constitutional history is marred by egotistic clashes between power claimants. Even judicial judgments swung in the direction of the wind vanes of the time. Shortly before pronouncing his verdict in the Dosso case, then Chief Justice Muneer declared that ‘when politics enters the portals of the palace of Justice, democracy, its cherished inmate, walks out by the backdoor’.

The kingpins in various institutions tend to forget French jurist Jean Bodin’s dictum ‘majesta est summa in civas ac subditoes legibusque salute potestas, that is ‘highest power over citizens and subjects, unrestrained by law’. Bodin explained power resides with whosoever has ‘power to coerce’. It does not reside with the electorate, Parliament, the judiciary or even the Constitution. In the past, our bureaucrats, judges, politicos, and even praetorian rulers fought tooth and nail to prove ‘I’m the locus in quo of ultimate power. Take General Zia. He had nothing but contempt for the Constitution and democratic norms (p.87. ibid.). While addressing a press conference in Teheran, he said, “What is the Constitution? It is a booklet of 10 or 12 pages. I can tear them up and say that from tomorrow we shall live under a different system. Is there anybody to stop me? Today the people will follow wherever I lead them. All the politicians including the once-mighty Mr Bhutto will follow me with their tails wagging.” Dicey said, “No Constitution can be absolutely safe from a Revolution or a coup d’état”.

Julius Caesar and Napoleon also harboured extra-constitutional hallucinations. Napoleon told Moreau de Lyonne, “The constitution, what is it but a heap of ruins? Has it not been successively the sport of every party? Has not every kind of tyranny been committed in its name since the day of its establishment?” During his self-crowning in 1804, Napoleon said, “What is the throne, a bit of wood gilded and covered with velvet. I am the state. I alone am here, the representative of the people”. Alas! All emblems (now albums) of le pouvoir, in uniform or civvies, were mortal.

The drafter of India’s constitution, Dr B R Ambedkar, prophetically remarked, ‘However good a Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad. However bad a Constitution may be, if those implementing it are good, it will prove to be good’. Ambedkar’s atman (spirit) must be swirling in pain to see the conduct of the practitioners of democracy– saffronisation, bigotry, war cries, exploitation, and what not. But a plus-point for Indian democrats. The Indian Constitution allows the President to dissolve the elected parliament. But, he has never done so.

In Pakistan, it is the vested interests, not demos (people) of demo-kratia, who rule. There is no social democracy. To quote Ambedkar, ‘Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life’. The fault lies with democrats, not democracy, whether presidential or parliamentary.