Threats to Parliamentary System & Possible Solutions
The topic has been selected for discussion in the wake of wide scale criticism heaped upon the parliamentary system which we adopted after our independence.
72 years have lapsed but parliamentary democracy has yet not matured and has fallen much short of expectations. It has become a cause of instability rather than stability.
The system began to rot after 1988 during the democratic era and became rotten during the 5 years black rule of PPP under Zardari when morality dipped to lowest levels.
Morality factor didn’t improve during PML-N tenure because of which the third force PTI was given a chance to stem the declining tide and breathe new life in the existing decayed system.
However, so far, the performance is much below the expectations and people are once again becoming disillusioned and frustrated. This frustration has given currency to multiple alternating ideas among the literary circles.
It is in this backdrop that we shall discuss what ails the parliamentary democracy, whether it can be cured and what other viable alternatives we have to run the country.
Systems in Work
Looking at the systems in work in the world, we find that majority of developed States like USA, Russia, China and France have Presidential form of govt.
Parliamentary form is mostly practiced in the 3rd world countries.
Former President Iskandar Mirza disfavored parliamentary system and advocated American presidential system. He and Field Marshal Ayub Khan were of the view that with abysmally low literacy rate, the nation was not fit for democracy.
The Islamists also favored presidential system, being closer to the system practiced by Khulfa Rashda.
Quaid-e-Azam too was inclined towards it and wanted to make Pakistan an Islamic welfare state. His untimely death in September 1948 was a huge setback from which we have not got out of till this day. His successors were mini-minds and none had the vision and ability to fulfil his dreams.
Objectives Resolution passed in March 1949 during Liaqat Ali Khan’s tenure provided fundamental principles on which the future constitution was to be framed. It maintained balance between Pakistan’s Islamic identity and demands of a modern democratic society.
Basic Principles Committee Report was however given a deathblow by the Islamists saying it was deficient of Islamic character and not in line with Objectives Resolution. Bengalis had their own grouses of losing their overall majority.
1956 Constitution. Due to infighting, it took us 9 years to formulate the 1956 constitution. It envisaged parliamentary system based on parity formula and unicameral legislature. As an interim instrument to govern, we had adopted Government (Govt) of India Act 1935.
The 1962 Constitution evolved by Ayub Khan Regime envisaging presidential form of govt was abrogated by Gen Yahya Khan in 1969. Absence of constitution led to political deadlock and eventually broke Pakistan into two in 1971.
The 1973 Constitution framed by ZA Bhutto regime in 1974 did resolve some thorny issues at provincial levels but implementation phase couldn’t be accomplished. It was never allowed to settle down and strike roots. It was mutilated time and again out of political expediency of each ruling regime.
Our Political History
Out of our 72 years of history, the democratic govts ruled for 38 years and the rest by the Army. The civilian rules were:
a. 1947 – Oct 1958. This period from 1951 onwards was called bureaucratic rule, or Bureaucracy-Military Oligarchy. Seven PMs changed hands. It sowed the seeds of Punjab-Bengali antagonism.
b. 1972 – July 1977. Bhutto introduced Islamic socialism and became an autocrat. Gains of golden period of Ayub Khan were washed away by devaluation of currency and nationalization scheme.
c. 1988 – October 1999. Four democratic govts of PPP and PML-N took turns. Due to acute political polarization, lack of governance, and culture of corruption, Pakistan accumulated heavy foreign debt and weakened state institutions. Their rules were shortened by Zia introduced Article 58 (2) B in the constitution, which had swung the pendulum in favor of president.
d. 2008 – Till to date. Three political transitions have taken place.
Forms of Democracy Practiced under Parliamentary System
• Governor General Rule
• Parliamentary democracy
• Separate and joint electorate system
• Party less democracy
• Multi-party democracy
• Two-tiered legislative and local bodies system
• Presidential system
Westminster Parliamentary System Adopted
• We inherited the British system based on 1935 Act and are retaining it. It’s a luxury that only wealthy countries can afford. It serves rich dynasties, powerful castes, political mafias, power brokers and warlords. It helps them in maintaining their stranglehold on power and in keeping the deprived class uneducated and suppressed.
• We have aped an alien system for too long without taking into account the enormous historical, economic and social differences. None cared to analyze whether it suited our psyche.
• In parliamentary system, whichever province has more population will form a govt. Punjab is the deciding battleground to win or lose elections.
• Having a façade of democracy with brittle ephemeral political institutions and without participation of the people and representation of decision making process is to make a mockery of the concept.
• Parliamentary system has been hijacked by the feudal and industrial warlords, capitalists and the Mafias.
• There is unsavory union between corrupt parliamentarians and bureaucrats. Both serve each other’s interests and are least bothered about national interests. Their fatal alignment has impoverished the nation and ruined the institutions.
The system based on feudalism, tribalism, and parochialism have been a major drag in our efforts to evolve true democratic dispensation.
Other than the evils of bribery, corruption, black marketing, nepotism, jobbery and hoarding identified by Quaid e Azam, feudalism, hereditary politics, high caste nuances, and power and wealth concentrating in hands of few rich families disrupted growth of true democracy.
ZA Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif enjoying two-third majority had a golden opportunity to strengthen democracy. Tragically, both sought to personalize power instead of building state institutions and empowering people.
Due to weak governance and management, nepotism and penchant for corruption of the elected govts, the Army had to step in four times to put the derailed country and bankrupt economy back on the rails.
In the three military regimes of Ayub, Zia and Musharraf spread over 9 to 11 years rule, the GDP was at 7 to 8% due to better governance and financial management but was at the cost of growth of democracy and institutions.
Army’s 34 year rule with complete power failed to doctor the malaise and the multiple diseases of Pakistan.
Champions of democracy advocate that worst form of democracy is better than dictatorship. They say that democracy was never given a chance to prosper. Their crib is that the Army has been ruling the country either directly or indirectly all along.
The military rules bred mistrust between the civil and military as well as between the institutions duly acerbated by outside powers. This together with political divergence, declining culture of compromise and trust weakened the edifice of successful democracy.
It cannot be denied that disgruntled politicians and opportunists are the biggest enemies of democracy. They are greedy, self-serving, black mailers and create as many hurdles to discredit or to topple the sitting govt.
They have played a big role in enticing and encouraging military adventurers to seize power. They distribute sweets after deposition of every elected govt and welcome the man on the horseback with open arms.
Politicians have always been making false promises to befool the people and get their votes.
Once elected, they get detached from those who voted them to power and get busy in recovering crores of rupees spent in election campaign with huge profits.
Legislators have always vied for money-making development projects and are least interested in legislation work, or sharing power with local bodies.
None of the systems succeeded in fulfilling basic elements of democracy. Nor the country could be pulled out of the morass of economic and social problems.
Democracy collapsed under the weight of administrative chaos, gluttonous greed to amass ill-gotten wealth, extravaganza of elites, financial bankruptcy and immorality.
Under the garb of democracy, the destitute are recklessly exploited and plundered.
To maintain their pompous lifestyle and to indulge in reckless spending on luxuries, the ruling regimes have been obtaining massive loans and have burdened the nation with a colossal debt of over 100 billion dollars.
The military regimes produced better economic results, but failed to solve the complex issues of social and political life through quick fixes.
Military discipline cannot work in the more flexible civil matters. It becomes a hindrance in consultative democratic process.
The other reason why long military rules couldn’t produce tangible results was that military rulers were haunted by lack of legitimacy and political constituency.
These constraints as well as their desire to perpetuate their rules forced them to lean on disgruntled politicians and on local bodies system and put up a façade of sham democracy.
The mix spoilt the broth and ended up in disastrous outcome and disgraceful exit of every military ruler.
Effects of Tainted Political Culture
The net result is that Pakistan never tasted the fruits of true democracy and remained content with sham democracy.
The political culture has become rotten to the core and has almost become incurable.
The elites, bureaucrats, politicians and their beneficiaries have badly bruised the body politics of Pakistan and shaken the foundations of democracy.
State institutions are thoroughly politicized, inept and corrupt.
While power and wealth has got concentrated in few hands, vast majority suffer from acute sense of deprivation.
The judiciary has too many flaws and has failed to deliver speedy and cheap justice to all.
Electoral system is blemished and it allows only the dirty rich to contest and get elected repeatedly.
Intolerance in the society, religious bigotry, secular-Islamic divide and fascist tendencies have impeded growth of democracy.
Across the board accountability and system of check and balance are missing due to which cultures of corruption and crime are thriving.
From the time of Ziaul Haq onward, Mafias have nestled into politics. They combine politics with business and crime.
As a result, democracy stand on weak pillars. Unless these bugs are fully cured, one cannot hope for true democracy, or build Naya Pakistan, or for that matter, success of any alternate system.
It has always been politically motivated and selective. That is why, it could never produce productive results. The surgeon knife removed the fat only and didn’t remove the malignant part.
Until and unless the accountability is across the board, even-handed and without settling personal scores, no headway can be made in doctoring the ailments.
Division of the youth into three streams of Madrassas, Urdu and English medium schools divided the society at the outset and gave birth to complexes. Least priority was accorded to education by allocating only 2% of the GNP.
Literacy rate has now climbed over 50% in which 15% are those who can just sign. Our literacy rate is lowest in South Asia and one of the lowest in the world.
Illiteracy is mother of our ills. Education system has to be harmonized and literacy rate taken above 80% to be able to select the right people for the parliament.
Iskandar Mirza was right in saying that “Democracy without education is hypocrisy without limitations”.
In this, the president is directly elected by the people and not by the national and provincial assemblies and has a fixed term of office. It establishes the presidency and the legislature as two parallel structures.
A president with strong power can usually enact changes quickly. The executive can veto legislative acts and in turn a super majority of lawmakers may override the veto.
The Executive Branch is uni-personal. Members of the cabinet serve at the pleasure of the president.
By virtue of a fixed term, this system is less prone to blackmailing tactics and vote of no confidence threat, and provide greater stability.
While we have experimented all forms of systems, so far Islamic system has not been tried. This is in spite of the fact that Pakistan came into being in the name of Islam.
The 1973 Constitution clearly lays down that no legislation must be done which is repugnant to Quran and Sunnah.
However, in practice we have pursued secular democracy and capitalist system. This dichotomy has sharpened secular-Islamic divide and has heightened extremism.
Reasons why process of Islamization couldn’t gain impetus was the lack of interpretation of various Islamic dictums, influence of western culture and illiteracy.
Leading religious parties have been the biggest impediment since each Fiqah wanted to impose Sharia bearing their trademark.
Gen Zia tried hard to bring all Ulema and Mashaikh on one page and had also introduced Sharia bill in the Majlis Shura, but he was mysteriously killed in a plane crash in August 1988.
To conclude, I would say that it must be remembered that neither presidential nor parliamentary form of govts are a bulwark against instability.
An average plan will succeed if it is executed with utmost honesty, commitment and sincerity of purpose.
The best of plans fail if executed half-heartedly and dishonestly.
Same principle is applicable to any form of system we want to introduce.
Fault lines lies with the democrats and not with democracy.
150 political parties have made the parliamentary system cancerous. Politicians have a tendency to play into the hands of enemies of Pakistan to prolong their stay in power and thus have become compromised and a security hazard. The government is sharing power with parties known for their treasonous tendencies, out of political necessity and expediency.
After 18th Amendment, provincialism is gaining ground and Sindh, Mohajir, Baloch, Pashtun, Seraiki cards are being played at the behest of Pakistan’s enemies.
India was always rated as the champion of democracy. The democracy has however, failed in India and it has turned into a fascist state under Modi.
It will be advisable to refurbish the present system by undertaking wholesome electoral reforms and reforms of Election Commission, bureaucracy, judiciary, police, NAB, FBR and other state institutions as well as media, and above all introducing one-tiered education system to provide equal social growth opportunities and to create awareness.
If reforms are not possible, next best option is to hold a referendum and enact presidential form of government, the modalities of which can be worked out. Likewise, there is a need to revisit the badly bruised 1973 constitution, which has lost its original texture.
To avert bloody revolution, there is a dire need for a new social contract. We should opt for Islamic presidential system in which the military must have its say in policy matters, and should reconstruct the constitution strictly based on the guidelines provided by Quran and Sunnah.
The writer is retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence & security analyst, columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, member think tank PESS. firstname.lastname@example.org