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System change demand must be disallowed for good

By Ashraf Mumtaz

September 6, 2020 04:57 PM

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It is unfortunate that every now and then somebody from nowhere surfaces and tries to reignite a controversy about a long-settled issue of the system of government Pakistan should follow. 

Press statements are issued to recount the blessings of the presidential system – and demerits of the parliamentary system, that had been approved through the 1973 Constitution. 

Precious time of the nation is wasted in unnecessary debates at various fora and then the matter is brushed under the carpet till somebody comes up again with a new set of arguments against the system. 

This time petitions were filed in the Supreme Court seeking an order for Prime Minister Imran Khan to hold a referendum to introduce presidential form of government in the country. 

Moved under Article 184(3) of the Constitution by one Tahir Aziz Khan, who heads a Hum Awam Pakistan party, that exists only on papers, the petition said referendum should be held after seeking due approval from a joint sitting of the parliament. 

The top court’s Registrar's Office returned the petitions with the objection that the petitioners had not approached the relevant forum before moving the Supreme Court. 

One petition had alleged that the fundamental rights of the people provided under Chapter 1 of Part II of the Constitution are being infringed upon by the failure of the present parliamentary form of the government to deliver for their welfare and wellbeing and progress in different fields of life. 

To substantiate the argument, it said the poor condition of masses of Pakistan reflects the parliamentary system has utterly failed, adding that as of March 2020 the public debt of Pakistan was estimated to be about Rs42.8 trillion or $256 billion. 

After citing dismal figures of the country’s huge financial burden in terms of external debt and liabilities towards the International Monetary Fund (IMF), besides HDI (Human Development Index) and GDP, the petition criticises the parliamentary system being run by parliamentarians who “blackmail and pressurise the government to promote their own personal interests. 

Pointing out various failures of the government organs, it says the presidential system best suits the country because in exercising his powers, the president requires no help from the parliament to implement his agenda.  

The petition also cited examples of the countries which have made a lot of progress by switching over to the presidential form. 

Political observers are of the view that system of the country is a settled issue and nobody should be allowed to seek its replacement on any pretext. Even lawyers taking this matter to court should be proceeded against. 

Needless to point out that a system is worked out according to the requirements of a country. The requirements differ from country to country and that is why a variety of systems are being practiced across the world. 

All five permanent members of the UN Security Council have different political systems and they are among the most developed states. 

In fact any system can change the fate of a nation provided it is implemented in letter and spirit. And even the best system will not bring the desired results if not implemented properly. 

For Pakistan one thing that must be kept in mind is the systems being practiced in China and Saudi Arabia, the two states Pakistan has the best and closest ties with. 

While China is emerging as a superpower that will replace the US in future, Saudi Arabia is also among the most developed states. Political systems of both of them are yielding the desired results. 

This means that Pakistan should stick to the system it has been following for the past four decades. Any change needed to meet the requirements of a situation can be brought about through an amendment. 

It is a good sign that political parties have also rejected the on-going campaign for bringing presidential form of government. 

They say those wanting to replace the system are playing with fire and this would lead to further political instability. 

“The presidential form of government is a failed experience of the past which the country cannot afford to experiment again,” said Senator Mushahid Ullah Khan, the parliamentary leader of PML-N in the Senate.  

Veteran PPP leader Raza Rabbani, who is also a former chairman of the Senate, has been quoted as saying that petitions against the parliamentary system are misplaced, an attempt to add to political instability and sow the seeds of polarization within the federation.,  

He said since 1947 people had struggled for “a federal, democratic and parliamentary form of government. 

Rabbani said that a change in the form of government was a fundamental change in the Constitution which could not be the subject matter of a writ petition.  The courts have held that if such a fundamental change is desired, fresh elections must be held for a constituent assembly and a proposition put before the nation, he noted.  

“Whoever seeks to alter the fundamentals of the Constitution through courts must be conscious of the fact that this will lead to institutional clashes and grave political instability, which the federation can ill-afford in the present circumstances,” the PPP leader warned. 

Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) Senator Usman Khan Kakar is also a supporter of the existing parliamentary system.  

He has been quoted as saying that the presidential system is neither acceptable to the government nor opposition. He said the nationalist parties would never accept any new form of government.

Ashraf Mumtaz

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