Why pangs of presidential system yet again?

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 03:40 PM, 28 Sep, 2021
Why pangs of presidential system yet again?
File photo.

Pakistan has been practicing parliamentary system of government for the past 48 years – under the 1973 Constitution. (The martial laws of Gen Ziaul Haq and Gen Musharraf, however, were aberrations although they too had the backing of the Supreme Court). 

But there are still elements who want the prevailing political order replaced by a presidential system as, in their opinion, the latter suits the country and people better. 

The latest attempt to win judiciary’s support for the presidential system was made on Monday (Sept 27). However, the apex court threw out the petition after the petitioners failed to offer satisfactory answers to judges’ queries. 

A question arises what is it that periodically prompts some elements to take this long-settled issue to court and thus waste valuable time of judges.  

Those feeling the pangs of presidential system forget that almost all political parties, including religious, have accepted the parliamentary system and have been part of it. 

Interestingly, so far no party has refused to be part of the present system just because of its nomenclature or lack of Islamicity even if they were defeated in various elections. 

It’s only regrettable that the judiciary has not closed its doors on such petitions. 

The counsel for the petitioners in the latest move - Ahmed Raza Kasuri -was the one who was among the people who had authored the 1973 Constitution that provides for the parliamentary system. 

Mr Kasuri had also approached the apex court on the same matter last year.  

However, his petition had not been entertained.  

In the latest petitions, four in number, argued by Ahmed Raza Kasuri the court was asked to order the prime minister to hold a nationwide referendum to pave the way for presidential system

During the proceedings the bench observed that the presidential form of governance had brought harm to the country, adding that the petitioners could launch a political movement if they really wanted to introduce this system. The judges said the Cons­titution did not provide any remedy to the Supreme Court to change or abolish the present system of government.  

Justice Muneeb Akhtar recalled the disastrous consequences of the presidential system and said it had led to disintegration of Pakistan.  

The counsel, however, argued: “In our parliamentary system, the members of parliament are in the habit of changing loyalties and are out to blackmail and pressurize the government to promote their own personal interests. It is for this reason that often a healthy opposition and a strong government cannot emerge to take care of the welfare and well-being of the people, he pointed out. 

According to him, “There is little legislation in the assemblies and the meetings of legislatures often fail due to shortage of quorum. 

To highlight the merit of his case, the counsel claimed that countries being governed through presidential system were performing far better. 

At this, Justice Bandial said that the apex court does not have the authority to replace a political system in the country, adding there were several political parties so why did the petitioner feel the need to move the court over a political issue. 

Kasuri responded that if the politicians had no interest in the "welfare of the people" should he stay silent as well? 

He said he was the "only person alive today who was among the authors" of the 1973 Constitution.

Thereupon, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah asked the petitioner whether the matter had been discussed in parliament or was it an "individual's desire" to bring a presidential system in Pakistan. 

Kasuri said he was not an "individual, but an institution" (a claim unexpected of a humble being).

Justice Muneeb Akhtar asked Kasuri why he didn't oppose the parliamentary system of governance when he was a lawmaker.  

At this, Kasuri responded that he did oppose the clause for the parliamentary system at the time. 

Justice Bandial said the court could have entertained the plea had some political party approached it on the issue. 

"If the petitioners want to start a movement [for presidential system], they can go ahead and do that," he said, adding that the SC doesn't have the authority to abolish a system and bring another. 

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah asked if there was a presidential system in Islam. At this, Kasuri said he wanted democracy that was in the times of the first four caliphs of Islam. 

Justice Bandial said that "everyone wanted a leadership like the caliphs but it was not possible and one needs to be realistic". 

There is no denying the fact that the country cannot afford to start a new debate on the system of government in the prevailing situation. People are experiencing countless problems needing immediate solution. 

The party in power (PTI) is an entity of novices, inexperienced people. It has failed to come up to people’s expectations, as a result of which the situation is turning from bad to worse.  

In such a situation the call for change of political system will not serve any useful purpose.  

And Mr Kasuri who had failed to convince the authors of the 1973 Constitution about the utility of the presidential system 42 years ago had no justification to waste his time and energies on what is a non-issue.