Pakistan has been struggling with the parliamentary system of governance now for over 70 years with repeated military takeovers being forced by corrupt Prime Ministers and Ministers elected through the Parliamentary system.
Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah had sensed that the parliamentary system of democracy would fail in Pakistan because of the strength of the feudals who would dominate and hijack the system. He wrote in his diary that the presidential system would be more suited for the country, and that the parliamentary system had worked well nowhere except in England. Jinnah was apparently impressed by the French system of governance but did not live long enough to frame a constitution patterned on his thinking.
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There are four major advantages of the presidential system. One, the president is directly elected by the people; that gives legitimacy to the power exercised by him. Two, the presidency and the legislature are two parallel but completely independent structures. This separation of powers allows each structure to keep a check on the other, thereby preventing misuse of power. Three, the president can act quickly and decisively when needed, thereby avoiding the years of haggling that goes on in parliament. And, four, the president is appointed for a fixed tenure and so there is stability, while the prime minister can be dismissed at any time.
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History has proved that the worst fears of Jinnah about the parliamentary system were right. Powerful feudal landlords – the so called ‘electables’ – hijacked the democratic system. The sham past democracies (‘feudocracies’) resulted in massive loot and plunder, particularly during the last 30 years. Pakistan stands almost bankrupt, with a massive national debt of over Rs30,000 billion.
The 77 years of our existence can be divided into eight phases. The first phase, which spanned 11 years (1947-58), involved the assassination of Liaquat Ali which was followed by shuffling between several different democratic governments. In this period Pakistan achieved average an annual GDP growth rate of 3.1 percent. Then began the golden era of Field Marshal Ayub Khan (1958-1969). In this period, major national dams were constructed and major industrialization began, which transformed the country’s economy into one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies. Pakistan achieved an annual average GDP growth rate of 6.8 percent. The manufacturing sector grew by 9 percent each year while agricultural growth was also excellent at 4 percent per annum.
Amazingly by 1969, our exports had exceeded those of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand combined. ‘Democracy’ was restored in this 3rd phase (1971-1977) by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Top industries were nationalized and leading industrialists fled the country. The GDP growth rate fell sharply to an average of 3.9 percent. Then came phase 4 (1978-1988), with the martial law of General Ziaul Haq. This was a difficult period for Pakistan, being involved in the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. However, in spite of these problems, our average annual GDP again increased by an average of 6.6 percent per annum.
In the subsequent democratic period (phase 5) (1988-1999), there were four short intermittent democratic governments of Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif. The average annual GDP growth rate again fell to 4.5 percent during this period when massive loot and plunder was again witnessed in the energy and other sectors. Then came the period of phase 6 (1999-2008) under General Musharraf/PML-Q. GDP again rose sharply to over 6 percent. The manufacturing sector showed average annual growth rate of 11.3 percent, even greater than that achieved under Ayub Khan, and there was a substantial reduction in poverty. Unfortunately, disaster struck in 2008 and the progress made was undone by the National Reconciliation Ordinance.
During phase 7 in which the PPP regime was in power (2008-2013) the pattern of massive corruption and slow growth was again repeated. The average GDP growth rate fell to 2.9 percent. According to Transparency International, about Rs8,500 billion ($94 billion) were lost due to massive national thefts in just four years of this period. During the subsequent PML-N regime (phase 8), the economy improved somewhat to an average GDP growth of little over 4 percent of GDP but remained lower than the GDP growth rates under the preceding military rules.
It is meaningful that every time a military regime took over from the preceding democratic rule, there was sharp improvement in the GDP growth rate and a significant improvement in the growth of the manufacturing sector and in poverty reduction. Indeed if all 32 years of military rule are combined together, the average annual GDP growth rate under the military regimes was 6.3 percent of GDP. However under 38 years of democratic regimes it averaged barely 4 percent, because of massive corruption.
One important reason for the failure of successive democracies was that cronies were appointed by democratic governments at key positions in NAB, FIA, SECP, State Bank, and other important organisations. They colluded with the corrupt leaders and allowed loot and plunder without any action.
In this age of specialization with the 4th industrial revolution upon us, we need to have technocrat ministers and secretaries who are specialists in their respective fields and can conduct their duties in a highly professional manner. This is almost impossible under the parliamentary system of democracy since ministers are selected from politicians who enter parliament and there are hardly any subject specialists among them.
So what is the way forward? It is what Quaid-e-Azam had recommended – to have a presidential system of democracy. This acts as a powerful filter against corruption, as corrupt politicians lose interest in being elected into parliament, since ministers are chosen directly by the democratically elected president.
The answer for Pakistan lies in having a technocracy and not a ‘pseudo-democracy’. This necessitates a change in our constitution. There are some good people in each of our political parties. They must put their heads together and find a way how we may embark on the path that our Quaid had recommended.
The writer is the former chairman of the HEC, and president of the Network of Academies of Science of OIC Countries (NASIC).