Parliamentary Versus Presidential

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What system suits Pakistan?

There is no denying that any system that builds society, promotes public welfare, values people, supports individual dignity, establishes democracy and brings stability in society is a good form of government. While, on the other hand, a system in which, uncertainty rules, undemocratic practices are routinized, creativity is insulted, people are driven with criminal disregard and a crisis of governance occurs is a bad one. Each form, parliamentary or presidential, has some pros and cons. A number of fallacies have been churned out about political system in Pakistan by various stakeholders since the inception of this ‘Land of the Pure’. In this article, a description of both the systems shall be given and light shall be shed on the question: what system suits Pakistan more? A historical glimpse of these systems being adopted in Pakistan as per need and circumstances and their characteristic features, along with reasons of how the presidential system can be more suitable for Pakistan, shall be discussed here.

Parliamentary system
Sadly, in the history of Pakistan, the parliamentary system has failed to deliver and live up to the expectations associated with it by all and sundry. This Westminster model seems ill-suited to prevailing realities of our nation. It has always benefited the mafias and feudal cliques at the expense of the common Pakistanis. It has facilitated the undemocratic forces to hijack the system, time and again. Some intellectual big guns think that it was deliberately designed by the then-ruling class to centralize monopolistic control over the state and its resources vide mafias/bigwigs. General public was ignored outright. Local governments were not established and developed as per the spirit of democratic norms. The parliament, which is supposed to legislate for the people, was used for personal gains, as legalising the election of Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, as chairman of his political party by passing of Election Bill, 2017. Issues exist in representation too as various segments of the society have a sense of deprivation. They rue that they are not given their due share in government as parties from small provinces fail to form the federal government – as evident from the past that who wins Punjab, wins Pakistan. There has been a schism even over the National Finance Commission (NFC) award which distributes resources among the provinces. Ethnic political culture was implanted here and it grew over time with deep roots. Many ethnicities bemoan less representation and minimum awards and benefits from government and keep raising concerns – some have even resorted to launch secession movements.

These are some fundamental concerns regarding parliamentary form of government. Let’s now move towards the other form, i.e. presidential form of government.

Presidential system
Taking presidential system into consideration, about half of Pakistan’s history has seen presidential or semi-presidential systems, but even they didn’t give two hoots to the people of Pakistan at large. Presidential regimes caused great losses and put Pakistan back on many fronts. Some presidential figures abrogated, mutilated and put in abeyance the constitution and replaced that with LFOs, a blemish on the face of democracy. Historically, Article 58(2)(b) has been used by presidents to dissolve the National Assembly, ergo the government. Presidents have driven the ship of this nation recklessly but have deemed themselves above the law. In democratic interludes, the prime minister was elected but hardly wielded real power as enunciated by the constitution. Undemocratic forces have been decadent. Peddlers of presidential system always had some ulterior motives. The presidents usurped power and clang to it for long. They abused the power system of this country from the very beginning. They dishonoured creativity. They devalued the state by giving world powers the chance to use this land to their benefit. They mired the country in an identity crisis; starting from Ayub’s modernism, then moving through Zia’s Islamization and then ending up at Musharraf’s ‘enlightened moderation’. The ‘Fall of Dhaka’ has also been a curse of a presidential stint. Such damages were caused because the presidential system in Pakistan was, in effect, a dictatorship, which has a characteristic feature of by-passing the law, and democratic forces are its prime foes. What can be expected of that system, where even a bare minimum is for person and not for the state?

What parliamentary system offers?
In parliamentary form of government, prime minister is the focal person and the parliament reigns supreme. In Westminster model, Prime Minister is the head of the government and the king or the president acts as a rubber stamp, as head of the state. Prime minister is responsible to public trough parliament which consists of people’s chosen representatives. S(he) can be made accountable at any stage of his/her tenure; his/her tenure is not as fixed as in presidential system.

In parliamentary system, there is also a fusion between the Executive and the Legislature. Cabinet of the prime minister consists of elected and, in some cases, unelected people. The lower house of the legislature (e.g. National Assembly in the case of Pakistan), which is elected by the people, has exclusive powers to legislate on financial and other economic or budgetary issues. When crucial decisions are to be taken, there is a debate in the parliament which makes the ultimate choice.

Moreover, parliamentary system is much more flexible and laws or amendments thereupon can be passed very easily. In parliamentary government, a coalition government can be made, where even small segments of the society get representation.

What presidential system offers?
Presidential system has the president as the head of the government and (s)he chairs the Executive of his/her country. Presidential system is considered better as compared to parliamentary system because the former is more about reality while the latter needs idealistic scenario to flourish. Many developed countries of the world including the United States, Mexico, China, Turkey and Russia have strong presidents and are leading the world in various spheres of life.

Presidential system promotes a strong local setup. It allows “separation of powers,” a very unique feature of this system. It keeps organs of the state in a specific place by ensuring their separation and then makes possible a check on one by the other. It, hence, establishes the postulate of “check and balance”. Presidential system allows the president to complete his/her tenure, unless something of heinous nature happens, that may lead to his impeachment. Due to a fixed tenure, continuity of policies becomes a hallmark of this system. President is highly empowered and (s)he can take quick decisions in his/her country’s interest.

In presidential system, the president is the head of the state as well as the head of government. President is above and beyond any kind of party politics, because (s)he is elected by the public or their representatives, e.g. Electoral College in the United States. President is authorized to fill the slots in his cabinet that can be chosen from experts and specialists in different fields – being an elected representative is not a prerequisite for that. If a minister does not perform well, the President can send him/her packing any time. There is no concept of collective responsibility in this system.

What suits Pakistan more?
In a cursory glance, we observed that both systems carry weight and have shortcomings as well. Here the question is: what suits Pakistan more? Following arguments shall support the evidence that presidential system suits more to Pakistan.

First, as Pakistan is in a quagmire, politically, socially, economically and religiously, so it needs quick and rational decisions. Hence, the presidential system suits more as it ensures quick decision-making.

Second, presidential system is the torch-bearer of separation of powers. Pakistan has a huge overlapping of powers which becomes an escape way for its executors. Hence, separation of power can be a better choice here.

Third, presidential system has surety of tenure, and policies can continue there, whereas in parliamentary form, vote of no-confidence, horse-trading and new elections are used as pressure tools against the sitting prime minister. Since Pakistan needs the surety of tenure of the head of the government and continuity of policies; therefore, presidential system is more suitable here.

Fourth, this continuity of policies and establishment of patterns can end identity crisis here.

Fifth, the system of accountability at hands of institutions needs to be strengthened and individual accountability of ministers must be preferred to collective responsibility. So, presidential system can be the harbinger of that in a best possible way.

Sixth, in parliamentary system, prime minister has to follow party lines and (s)he can be blackmailed too on various issues by his own party as well as by coalition members. While in presidential system, the president has nothing to do with party politics; he is above party politics and does his work with dedication. Pakistan pressingly needs such a system. So, presidential system is a better choice, comparatively.

Seventh, presidential system is a bit rigid, and does not allow all amendments to get passed for personal or party gains. This all makes it better version of governance in a country like Pakistan.

Eighth, in presidential system, there is a check and balance of one institution over the other, this thread is missing in parliamentary system because of dual roles. And, this is a dire need of Pakistan at present, and this makes presidential system better here.

Ninth, in presidential system, local government system is established and is very strong, while parliamentary system targets more at budgetary allocations and strives for the concentration of power.

Tenth, presidential system proved insulant against dictatorships while parliamentary system is prone to it – Pakistan’s history is a case in point.

Eleventh, pluralistic states can also be run under a presidential system. So, Pakistan can choose it.
Last but not least, a federation needs three elements to perform better, i.e. Trust, Confidence, and Representation. Trust of public in parties that they can run the system; confidence in institutions that they shall do their duties best and representation is made to meet public needs and demands. And these three traits can be established better in a presidential system on quick basis.
Hence, we must learn from history, and should not allow anyone to embroil us politically because of ill-advised rabble-rousing tempest of Westminster model of democracy. We must choose the presidential system with democratic patterns to strengthen and flourish Pakistan.

The writer holds an LLB degree and is currently serving as Excise, Taxation and Narcotics Inspector. He can be reached at

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