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Parliamentary System vs Presidential System: What’s Better for Pakistan?

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Introduction

The failure of the parliamentary system in the country has raised concerns regarding its effectiveness. The populace is divided between the pros and cons of transitioning to a presidential form of governance yet again after the pathetic display of the politicians in the Parliament over the budget proposals. The overarching concern, in either case, is for the delivery of democracy and good governance to the grassroots level.

Bad governance has been construed as a seminal issue in Pakistan. So much so that the country’s populace has been deliberating over Pakistan’s parliamentary system vs a possible presidential system. The country, through history, has experienced different kinds of governments; from democracy to military dictatorship, to civilian martial law by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Pakistan inherited its current government system, the parliamentary form of government, from its former colonial rulers, the British. Ironically, while the parliamentary system has been successful for governance in the latter, the case for Pakistan is on the contrary.

The failure of the parliamentary system in the country has raised many reservations. Does a single solution of a parliamentary form of government resolve all problems? Considering the varying demography, culture, and history of both countries, how can one size be fit for all? Recently, a debate on transitioning to the presidential system has surfaced on social media. The population is divided between the pros and cons of each form of the governing system.

However, in either case, the overarching concern is for the delivery of democracy and good governance to the grass-root level. Both schools of thought are, hence, unanimous regarding their concern for a strong government. The question, however, remains as to which of the governing systems can deliver upon these values effectively.  

Pakistan has experienced both forms of governments, yet a large number of the population is unaware of the merits and demerits of either; an essential understanding is lacking about the deep-seated problems vested within the governmental structure of Pakistan. One of the major reasons for this downfall is the perennial tug of war for power.

Understanding the Presidential and Parliamentary Systems

Many in the country believe that the presidential system is synonymous with dictatorship as it is a ‘one-man’ rule. The main cause behind this perception is that some leading analysts and media persons continue to protect the parliamentary system that has bogged the nation down. To clear such fallacies, one must understand the true meanings and merits of the presidential system.

It is erroneous to tantamount the presidential system with dictatorship as those are two different notions. Moreover, the presidential system is a form of the democratic system; many countries which are perceived as the torchbearers of democracy are under this form of governance. The champions of democracy must realize that the presidential system fuels the argument for effective democracy and is not undemocratic.

In the presidential system, the president is elected by the people directly which makes the power concentrated in his office. This makes the perception of a one-man rule somehow true yet it also leads to a strong government. It preserves the head of the government from the fear of being ousted by the opposition which leads to focus on public development and service delivery.

This lack of fear also entails the depoliticization of administration; talented and skilled manpower is sought to ensure efficient service delivery as the president must maintain his/her popularity with the masses. Moreover, the coercion for compromises inflicted by opposition parties is not there. It provides irrevocable fixed terms to legislators and executives.

As far as the question of one-man rule is concerned, the president can be impeached but by the approval of both houses; the process of impeachment is quite intricate as compared to the parliamentary system. This provides the government with enough strength to deliver favourable services to the common citizens of the nation.

The presidential system engages talented people and paves the way for good governance by limiting the legislature to focus on governance and delivery. In the presidential system, unlike the parliamentary system, the budgetary allocations and spending are delegated to the people at the grass-root level in union councils with checks and rudimentary transparency. The presidential system ensures the separation of power between legislative and executive branches.

It is relevant to mention here that the presidential system ensues the peril of becoming a dictatorship in some cases if the president starts to victimize its political rivals; it becomes complicated to halt his/her activities through impeachment due to the complexity of the system. It can further augment the notion of being discriminating amongst minorities or those factions which are not averse to the president on an ethnic or lingual basis.

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On the other hand, the parliamentary system is much weaker in terms of strength as compared to the presidential system. Impeaching a prime minister is easier in the parliamentary system than doing so in the presidential system. The government thus remains perplexed about its stability as there is no irrevocable fixed term of the executive and legislatures in the parliamentary system.

This forces the governments to make inevitable compromises and compensations to the opposition parties to keep the government intact. These compromises result in a friendly opposition and can hamper a check on the government because the former often seems eager to jump on the bandwagon of the latter to protect its vested interest – which is not about the public service delivery in most of the cases.

The advocates of the parliamentary system posit that it provides equal representation and voice to all the people of the state without discrimination. A major demerit of the parliamentary system is that it does not separate the power between the executive and legislative branches of the government which leads to the politicization of the administration of the country. This politicization then stimulates the culture of patronage, corruption, and decline in the reliance upon professionalism.

Successful Presidential Systems in the World

The United States is exemplary for a successful presidential system. In the US, the presidential system has been deployed since the inception of the country. The United States is a cauldron of different cultures making it a heterogeneous society. The success of the presidential system in the US is no secret; it was its governmental structure that made it a superpower in the world despite being a former colony of Britain which is a parliamentary democracy.

One of the salient features of the United States’ governmental structure is its system of checks and balances of the legislature, judiciary, and executive which ensures the functioning of the three branches constitutionally and in favor of the public interest.

The country has made unprecedented progress in history due to its strong government which may not be the case in the parliamentary system. The system hampers the president to victimize his political rivals thus negates the notion that it can lead to dictatorship. Furthermore, the powers concentrated in the office of the president enable him/her to make crucial decisions that are in favor of the country without compromising with the opposition to secure his/her term.

The presidential form of democracy and its performance in the country amply denote that this form of government can produce exemplary impact, particularly in cases where the parliamentary system has failed – Turkey is one such example.

One cannot disagree with the sharp rise in the soft power among the Muslim countries and progress of Turkey in the recent past which was not possible erstwhile. For this purpose,  Turkey revoked its parliamentary system and adopted the presidential system. Incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – the former prime minister of the country – has changed the system of the government in the country to ensure strong governance, allowing him to take prompt decisions for the good of the country.

The powers are now separate in the country. Legislative powers are vested in the Grand National Assembly while executive powers are exercised by the Council of Ministers which is directly appointed and headed by the president. The rationale behind the change in the structure of government in Turkey was to have a strong government that could make bold and efficient decisions without facing hindrances from the opposition.

The example of China and Russia would be pertinent to cite here as the governmental structure in both these countries concentrates powers in the office of the president. Some might oppose these examples as they are not democratic countries, however, these countries comprise strong and stable federal governments which along with many other factors have contributed to the rise of both these nations in the 21st century.

Parliamentary System vs Presidential System in Pakistan

Good governance has been the core issue of the country. Pakistan has experienced both forms of government in history: the presidential form under the military rules and also during the civilian martial law of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and the parliamentary system during the democratic regimes. If we look at the facts and figures of the progress and prosperity of the country, it is easily understandable that the country was doing well in terms of improving living standards, education, health, and development during the three military regimes when the presidential system was in effect.

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The local body system was also endorsed in its true spirit as stated by Ishrat Hussain, Advisor for Institutional Reforms and Austerity of Pakistan, in his book Governing the Ungovernable: Institutional Reforms for Democratic Governance in Pakistan. Although the presidential form of the government was experienced under the non-democratic military rule yet the progress made during the military rule by no means justifies the intervention of non-democratic forces in the democratic process.

Pakistan comprises of heterogeneous society and all the segments of the society must get equal representation in the government which is only possible in the parliamentary system. This argument is used by the advocates of the parliamentary system in the country but the question is that has this equal representation resolved the issues of the people that are being represented? The answer is a big no.

The plight of the people of Baluchistan, Sindh, and FATA is an utter substantiation of the bad performance of the parliamentary system. Most of the politicians in the country are averse to the debate on the change of the governmental structure arguing that the presidential system is dictatorial. In reality, the presidential system is not undemocratic instead it is one of the forms of the democratic systems imposed in many countries of the world.

The presidential system is not perilous for the democracy but, in reality, it is a threat to the vested interest of the corrupt political elite of the country. Many argue that the parliamentary system is working well in Britain, Canada, and many other countries but the reality is that the literacy level in these countries is much higher than that of Pakistan.

Most of the politicians in the latter country are feudal lords who lack the essential knowledge regarding the functioning of the democracy and parliamentary system, and also the competence to rule the country effectively. It is a common perception in the country that most of the politicians are corrupt and they participate in politics to serve their interests.

Pakistan inherited the parliamentary system from its former colonial ruler. The structure bequeathed by the British to the subcontinent was deliberately designed to centralize the monopolistic control through political mafias as the former were least concerned about their colonial subjects.

The populace of Pakistan needs service delivery to the grassroots level. For this purpose, a country needs strong, well-structured, and agile local governments which are fully accountable to the people and can also eliminate the notion that resources are not allocated equally in every region which is possible in the presidential system as has been experienced in previous such governments in the country.

The agile local governments can also be used to curb the sentiment of being dealt unfairly by the central government. If the parliamentary system was able to do so then the plight of Baluchistan would have been different which delineates the failure of the parliamentary system in Pakistan.

The wealthy elite, through the parliamentary system, succeeds to reach the apex ministries in Pakistan based on its influence while being incompetent. The history of the country is replete with such instances. Unfortunately, the country’s politicians who are seen to be the torchbearers of the democracy manifest such undemocratic attitudes.

One such example is the statement of the Minister of Railway after the recent accident when he refused to resign from his office. If a similar incident would have happened in Britain or any other parliamentary country, the situation would have been otherwise. Hence, keeping the undemocratic attitude of the people and politicians of the country in mind, it is unjust to compare the country with Western countries where the parliamentary system is performing best.

In Pakistan, a fresh debate of the parliamentary system vs the presidential system must be launched by the political scientists and leading think tanks to assess which form of government is most effective for the country’s performance. Pakistan severely needs strong governance and political stability in light of its declining condition under the parliamentary system.

This failure, by no means, advocates the military’s intervention in the country. Nevertheless, the political elite must become actualized of their corruption and incompetency which paves the way for non-democratic forces to intervene.

A change of system or at the very minimum, a healthy and lucrative debate on this subject is crucially needed for the continuity of democracy in the country, and further to remove the resentments of the minority factions and destitute of the country. The essential concern must remain the amelioration of the plight of the people and not merely an adherence to a specific governance form.

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[…] Introduction The failure of the parliamentary system in the country has raised concerns regarding its effectiveness. The populace is divided between the pros and cons of transitioning to a presidential form of governance yet again after the pathetic display of the politicians in the Parliament over the budget proposals. The overarching concern, in either case, […]  […]

Democracy

Intense polarization and Pakistan’s democratic future

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Pakistan has been a polarized polity and consequently, a divided society for the past half century, and even longer if we look back deeply into its history. It started with the serious differences among the political elites of the country over the character of the state, quality of federalism, relationship between religion and governance and ideological choices. One may argue that it could be a normal process in a diverse nation’s struggle to take a definite direction and achieve stability in the formative phase. But one wonders why it would take nine years in writing the first constitution and then its annulment within three years without any general elections or transfer of power happening under it.

Without getting into the details, it was the inability of the ruling elites, their diverse regional backgrounds, personal vested interests in power grabs, and for that purpose, engineering of political manipulation to wreck governments and forms new ones.
Factions of the same elite under different party platforms kept displacing one another from power endlessly until the military took over in 1959. There is another view that political elites were innocent and they were actually played against one another as puppets by the civil and military bureaucracy.

This is too charitable a perspective to excuse the political elites and their never-ending factionalism, which continues to this day, after a long history of 74 years. If they had played by the rules, demonstrated political solidarity on principles and forged a political consensus, the democratic norms and convention would have gelled over time. The recent ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan, despite the fact that he had the largest party in the parliament with 156 members losing power to a motley group of political factions, the closest second having only 86 members and forming the new government, speaks a great deal about persistent polarization. The sad story of Pakistan is that naked factional elite interests have shaped these power plays, often by seeking friendly intervention from the powerful judicial and security institutions.

Generation after generation, coming from the same feudal-tribal social background, Pakistan’s political elites have promoted political values that run counter to nation and state-building.

The normal and expected role of the political elites in any form of political system is working toward stability, order, national unity, solidarity and continuity along with ensuring progress, social and economic development.
The Pakistani elites have done quite the opposite: polarizing and dividing people along ethnic, religious, ideological and narrow political lines. Generation after generation, coming from the same feudal-tribal social background, they have promoted political values that run counter to nation and state-building in ethically and demographically diverse society.
Ultimately, it is the rapacious character of the Pakistan ruling classes, their low commitment to rule of law and accountability and access to power as means of material benefits that have stunted the growth of democracy. In such conditions, the military has assumed the role of ‘guardian’ of the state, and has regularly managed political conflicts erupting over power struggles among the elites.
The present polarization between the PTI and the rest of the 11 so-called political parties and factions is not new. It is a continuation of the same historical pattern, only the main characters have changed. Each successive confrontation has been more severe than before. The ongoing clash looks like political warfare with no-holds-barred, barely covered with a fig leaf of constitutionality. This has been in the making for the past nine years when Imran Khan challenged the fairness of the 2013 elections. The others, in return, questioned the accuracy of the 2018 vote and vowed to oust him from power by forming a joint alliance, launching street demonstrations, and finally succeeding by winning over dissidents from his party and coalition partners and moving successfully a vote-of-confidence motion in the National Assembly.
The sudden change of heart by four coalition groups supporting Khan and the open betrayal of 20 members of his party have raised many troubling questions about the neutrality of powerful state institutions. This adds another dimension to the political conflict playing out in media, civil society and the general public. 

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Khan has instantly decided to engage in popular agitation against what he calls an ‘imported’ government by weaving a narrative of foreign ‘conspiracy’ and accusing some as ‘traitors.’ His decision to resign from the national assembly en-masse is stunning and may prove to be an adventurous path to Azadi‘liberation’ for the country. He will be doing politics now not in the parliament but in the streets, rousing public anger against the ‘corrupt mafia’ and demanding fresh elections. 

Via ArabNews

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Democracy

Democracy: A colonial hangover

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The system is premised upon the idea that one head would count one vote. Although the notion theoretically solves the basic inequality problem, it generates far greater inequalities’

Right after the Second Great War, though the British did leave this continent for good, they left a mess for the people of the newly founded nations to collect. Oftentimes, while trying to rationalise their colonial past, many of its fervent advocates claim that one of the greatest things that colonised countries inherited, which they would not have otherwise, was the idea of democracy: A new system of governance. A facile narrative to cover their smelly past, but also a false one.

Like many other nation-states, Pakistan also adopted democracy at the time of its inception, taking its cue from the then supposed leaders of the world. It hoped that by doing so, it too would reap the benefits that democracy promised to bring along – equality, freedoms, free-market economy and stability. However, many of these states descended into martial laws under despotic rules or turned rogue. Pakistan’s own fate was no different.

Perhaps, there are inherent flaws that everybody tends to overlook because of the way it was delivered to us and by whom – our old masters giving us the parting gift. But why is it that, to date, the same system working with far greater efficiency in the West fails miserably in developing nations?

Free market is a preeminent feature of democracy and in theory, it was supposed to be the lodestone towards freer and more egalitarian societies. But all it accomplished in reality was a further chasm in inequality and degeneration into pure consumer capitalism. This marvel made it so that power would concentrate in the hands of the affluent, making it essential for the politicians to remain in their thrall if not from within them. This notion is precisely misleading when looking at western societies. The idea of social-welfarism – which began in the early 1900s only – bridged this gap to an ‘acceptable’ degree both in terms of social and economic equality. But can this ever be achieved in countries like Pakistan or India: Reeking of moral corruption, notoriously venal, elections manifestos premised upon intolerant suppositions, bedevilled histories and above all, rugged with indigence?

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The system is premised upon the idea that one head would count one vote. Although the notion theoretically solves the basic inequality problem, it generates far greater inequalities. This perspective is not supposedly a new idea and was also put forth by B.R. Ambedkar at the time when he was penning the Indian constitution. The idea of an English democracy did not particularly resonate well with another leader of the Indian freedom movement: Mahatma Gandhi.

One might inquire the reason why these leaders were so sceptical of democracy. The answer can be found precisely in today’s time. Even a fleeting look at the Modi regime could call a day of reckoning for all purveyors of democracy: de facto martial law in Kashmir, systemic persecution (as witnessed in Gujrat) and discrimination against ethnic minorities, populism at its peak, leading India into regressivism – and all this being done by the ‘democratic power’ vested in Modi by the ‘largest democracy’ in the world. Maybe such foresight left some of the leaders of the Indian Independence Movement disenchanted with democratic prospects, fearing that such a system would spawn the same problems that they sought independence to curb.

Pakistan, billed as the single Muslim nuclear power has always had to maintain an international image. The problem with the image is that it is examined on western ideals of which democracy stands to be the single biggest factor, irrespective of how nominal it is. This ensures aid, loans, and all sorts of international support for said country.

If such a scene is set, how can really a country decide what system serves its people best? It is as if countries are being goaded into something simply because they cannot yet afford a dignified existence for their people. It is not to whinge that democracy is rooted in every problem or to anoint it with a gilded halo as the saviour of nations.

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The point in matter is to maybe think beyond for more egalitarian and just systems of governance. To not only aim at democracy as a metric to be reasoned among civilised nations. To make it in essence, once again, the society of Lycurgus, the society of Plato, the society of Marcus Aurelias which could push beyond what they could see. These rusty gateways of discourse, which would require some pushing, need to be opened. Maybe democracy works, maybe it does not – but the answer, in the end, lies with the people.

Via MM

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Democracy

LGs and welfare

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WITH a renewed focus on conducting local government elections, the issue of grassroots governance has bounced back into the news and policy cycles. This is reflected in the various aspects of LGs being dissected by political and civil society stakeholders, and activities — including protests by political parties — to find better and lasting ways to improve local governance.

Historically, the local bodies, first introduced during Gen Ayub’s military regime, have waxed and waned in line with the wider political schemes of state managers. It is an open secret that LGs are strategically renewed by military governments for undermining the established local political elite and manufacturing into existence a new layer of more pliable grassroots leadership. Meanwhile, elected governments and political parties too have neither looked kindly on the prospect of LGs taking root for similar fears that their locally established leadership might be challenged by new political actors.

However, irrespective of the intention behind the strategic diminishment and resurrection of LGs, the consensus across the political and academic spectrum is that local bodies are the linchpin of service delivery and the chain of political representation. Moreover, their role as connectors of higher-tier government structures and grassroots also remains unchallenged. In this respect, while many aspects of LG service delivery roles are being pored over, the role as a deliverer and administrator of social protection programmes has not been given the attention it deserves.

In Western democracies, the political governance landscape is based on local parish and councils. It is unimaginable to see them knocked out of the political representation and service delivery chain. In the UK, without local councils administrating education, social welfare systems etc, the whole edifice of a unitary state would come crumbling down. In Pakistan, however, LGs have been turned off and on like tap water, discouraging the exercise of people’s right to local representation.

With LGs, Ehsaas can have a greater reach.

The role of LGs in the administration of social welfare programmes is by now also well established in the developing world. Brazil is both associated with introducing participatory budgeting at the municipal level and the use of LGs in the administration of its famed cash transfer programme Bolsa Familia. This model has been copied in the rest of Latin and South America with municipal offices playing an ever-greater role in the roll-out and administration of similar cash transfer programmes. Brazil’s municipalities are at the front and centre in managing its social registry, carrying out a broad set of functions including identification of low-income areas, registration of beneficiaries, data collection and verification, training and outreach etc.

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In Colombia, LGs are responsible for processing new applications and updating existing beneficiaries’ data on a rolling basis. Each municipality signs an agreement with the national cash transfer programme, committing to specific obligations and responsibilities. Committees are also established at the municipal level to handle complaints and allegations of ineligible beneficiaries.

In Pakistan, however, the role of LGs in the roll-out and administration of cash transfer programmes has been not systemically thought through. One of the key reasons for this is the evolving and expanding nature of the Ehsaas or Benazir Income Support Programme and the uncertainty about the continuance and longevity of LGs.

However, now that LGs seem to be back in fashion, steps should be taken to make them a permanent feature of political representation and service delivery chains. Only when the LG system is allowed to put down roots and firm up its uninterrupted presence can we begin to think about ways to shoehorn social protection programmes into LG structures for ease and confidence of its beneficiaries.

As the Ehsaas programme expands, LGs can provide it with a firm foothold, acceptability and greater reach among the public. Pakistan should definitely learn from the pragmatic fusion of local bodies and social protection programmes for better service delivery and generating wider public involvement (and hence support) at local levels. Political parties also need to change course and see LGs as the permanent enhancer of representative and service delivery aspects of democratic governance rather than as competitors of established local elites. In the longer term, there is also a long-overdue requirement for conducting research into how the absence of LGs has contributed immensely to the crisis of democratic governance and falling standards of centralised service delivery that we see today.

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