Every Time Presidential System Was Introduced, Pakistan’s Federation Suffered
Media is debating whether Pakistan should have a parliamentary system of government or a presidential one. Although Pakistan cannot afford a ‘change’ in the system at the moment, there’s no harm in debating the subject The dissenting voices must be heard and the people in favor of Presidential or Parliamentary democracy must be allowed to share their opinions.
The first Presidential election was held on January 2, 1965. Ayub Khan was the president at the time. There was relative prosperity in the country during his rule but it turned out to be horrific for Pakistan’s federation in the longer run. We signed the SEATO and CENTO treaties. President Ayub Khan handed over Badaber base to the US for the surveillance of Soviet Union’s activities in the region.
Presidential system is centralized. It eventually deprives the smaller provinces of their share in power. East Pakistan especially felt left out during Ayub’s rule. The discontent gave birth to a widespread separatist movement in Bengal. The rest is history.
Moreover, the system was rigged by Ayub Khan to defeat Miss Fatima Jinnah in the 1965 elections. During the election campaign, Miss Jinnah not only criticised Ayub Khan but also the Presidential form of government. Her pivotal point in the election campaign was the introduction of a parliamentary form of government in Pakistan.
Later, General Yahya Khan ousted Ayub Khan and became Chief Martial Law Administrator. What happened after the 1970 election held on his watch continues to haunt this country to date. Yahya along with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the runner-up in the election, decided to do anything to bar Sheikh Mujib from coming to power, though Mujib’s Awami League had won the elections.
Bhutto also remained president for a short while before the formulation of the 1973 constitution.
After that, Zia held power as a president and chief of army staff. And his rule is remembered as the darkest period of Pakistan’s history. From Bhutto’s execution to Islamisation of the country, every deep-rooted ill we see in the society today was sowed during his rule.
The Zia regime introduced drugs and gun culture in Pakistan. The way jihad was exported to promote the cause of US against Soviet Union has been talked about a lot. Society was entirely radicalised, leaving the moderate and secular voices suffocated.
The last powerful president was General Pervez Musharraf. Under his regime, PML-Q and PPP-Patriot were created to dent the strong vote banks of PML-N and PPP. Musharraf accepted the infamous 6 points of the US post-911, allowing them to use our airbases, to drone attack our soil, compromising on our territorial integrity. Pakistan has lost almost 60,000 of its children to the devastating war that he forced the country into.
In short, presidential system has always had negative impacts on Pakistan’s federation.
Many in favor of Presidential system believe that Jinnah wanted a presidential system in Pakistan. This is an inaccurate claim because in my view, Jinnah’s entire political training had been under British political system.
In fact Stanley Wolpert stated in ‘Jinnah of Pakistan’, Quaid-e-Azam in 1931 wanted to enter British parliament as Labour MP. After the Labour party refused to give him the ticket, Jinnah urged Aga Khan (his close aide) to request Tory to back his candidacy. Even if some believe that the reasons aren’t convincing enough, Miss Fatima Jinnah’s famous speech during 1965 election campaign is enough to prove his vision since Fatima Jinnah remained Quaid’s closest confidante throughout his life.
The 1973 constitution along with 18th amendment is a consensus document. The flaws in 18th amendment, if any, can be fixed with the help of dialogue but wrapping up the existing system after deliberately sabotaging it will have dire consequences for the country.
The ruling party doesn’t even have the adequate numbers in NA and Senate to change the system single-handedly. However, the reason for initiating the debate is that PM Khan idolises Ayub Khan. PM Khan wants himself to be an authoritarian President with all the constitutional powers vested in his person. This is something that wouldn’t be acceptable to the smaller provinces.