Has the Parliamentary System Failed in Pakistan? Essay
The reason for this response is also simple; Until March of this year, Pakistan has never tried the parliamentary system. Pakistan instead has tried to avoid parliamentary supremacy through almost every device known to political scientists: the so called vice regal system, military authoritarianism, presidential supremacy, and prime ministerial autocracy, with variants on some of these.
It is best to look at what a “parliamentary system” means and then to note how Pakistan has avoided its use in its governance. At root a parliamentary system includes the right of the people to elect in free and fair elections their representatives to a body that will be able to enact laws under a constitutional arrangement the enables those representatives to act in the interests of the people at large as they perceive them. These representatives are to be elected for a set term after which they must face the electorate again in a free and fair election that will decide their retention in or their dismissal from office. The system also presumes that the representatives will come from roughly equally sized constituencies (unless the people in devising their constitutional arrangements decide to use some form of proportional representations, but this decision is also one that must be taken by a constitution making body properly representing the People). Whether a “first past the post” system is used, as is the case in Great Britain, the United States, and all three countries that have emerged from the British Indian Empire, or a proportional representation system (as formerly in France) is used, or any variant on either, a regular and accurate census is necessary. This, too, Pakistan has avoided since 1981, although all indicators show a substantial shift from rural to urban areas. However, more than a constitutional and legal framework is needed to make a parliamentary system work, These requirements can perhaps be best summed up in three categories: compromise, consultation,,and tolerance. It hardly need be said that the governments that have held office in Pakistan since its independence have been greatly deficient in these areas that provide for the smooth and efficient working of a parliamentary system or, for that matter, a presidential system of government.
By compromise, I mean the ability of the various parties in the parliament to work together for the good of the country to frame legislation that will bring the greatest good to the greatest number of the citizens. There needs to be a recognition that not always will the views of the ruling party or coalition achieve this and that the ideas of the opposition often can and should be accommodated. one means to this end is the assistance that can be given by committees comprised of ruling and opposition members of parliament that are attached to each ministry. Compromise can only be reached through consultation. It is often forgotten that the leader of the opposition in a parliamentary system has the rank and status of a minister of the government. Meetings between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition can often avoid the displays of unparliamentary behaviour that are far too often seen in many parliaments including Pakistan’s, the shouting matches, walkouts, and even fighting. These are not only unseemly, but also sharply lower the confidence the people have in their representatives.
This is tied in with tolerance. In the parliament, as among the citizens, there will be many variant views on matters concerning politics, economics, and society. Recognition by citizens and parliament that their differences are one of the corner stones of a democratic system, whether it be government by a parliamentary or a presidential system. Many of the differences in Pakistan relate to the role of Islam in the state. These differences were clearly cited by the founder of Pakistan, MuhammadAli Jinnah, in his important address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947: “He said: “If you change your past and work together in a spirit .that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what his colour, caste or creed, is first, sectioned and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make”; In my view, the re-introduction of separate electorates by Zia-ul-Haq is a sign·of intolerance. This vitiates the concept of equality of all citizens, the concept advocated by Jinnah.
Intolerance, of course, is not limited to religion. It has become a serious and deadly issue within Islam as one sees the sectarian violence that has become so present in Pakistan. It also is seen in ethnic and linguistic divisions, the most deadly of which Karachi and Hyderabad. We can return to Jinnah’s August 11, 1947, speech: “We are starting with this fundamental principle that we.are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. the people of England in course of ‘time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain all members of the Nation. It is inevitable that intolerance in the population at large will be reflected in the parliament and undermine its’authority and credibility.
It goes without saying that the. actions of the parliament and, especially, of its members must be transparent. It and they are in the position of Caesar’s wife, there should be no evil said of them. There should be an “ethics committee” by whatever name that is composed of members of all parties and that has the duty to investigate reports of improper actions by members. Less than this will inevitably undermine the standing of parliament among the people. Finally, a parliamentary system produces a cabinet that is charged with governing the country. It receives a vote of confidence from the parliament, usually the lower and directly elected house, that gives it the authority to govern. On major decisions the agreement of the full cabinet can be expected, while on less important actions the decision may be made the minister in charge of the particular department concerned. This is not to say that the civil and military bureaucracies have no role to play, but their role should be limited to recommendation and implementation. The cabinet, under the prime minister, must take the lead in decision making for it is they alone who are responsible to the electorate . Especially in Pakistan, the government should heed to statement credited to Clemenceau that wars are too important to be left to the generals. The troika of president, prime minister and military instituted by President Leghari flies in the face of representative democracy .
It was implied earlier that Pakistan since its independent (up to March of this year) has actively avoided a political system under which the parliament would be supreme in legislation, subject only to the limits of the constitution as interpreted by the courts, which must be independent of both the legislature and the executive. It is important to note that the judiciary has acted against appointments to the benches of persons who were not qualified to hold judicial appointments according to the constitution.
At the time of independence in 1947, Pakistan was led by a ‘person who towered over all other in the political world. Jinnah dominated the political system by holding three posts: governor general, president of the Constituent Assembly, and president of the Muslim League. He governed, so long as he was able, under a system that has been described as “viceregal”. He assumed the powers of viceroy, although the India Independence Act of 1947 transferred those powers to dominion authorities in Pakistan and India, meaning the cabinet. Neither Mountbatten nor Rajagopalachari as governor general of India exercised the almost unlimited powers that Mountbatten had prior to independence. (In his frequently quoted letter of October 27, 1947, to the Maharaja of jammu and Kashmir, Mountbatten uses the term “my government,” indicating that he was actin on the advice of the cabinet as is incumbent on a non governing head of state.
The Constituent Assembly, which would also act as the legislative body for Pakistan, had been elected indirectly (by the provincial legislatures using a single transferable vote) prior to the independence of Pakistan and India when the primary political question was the unity or division of India and not the legislation that would be needed to govern an independent state. It had thus become unrepresentative. The death of Jinnah temporarily passed the locus of power to Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan as the governor general ship was given to a weakened East Bengali politician, Khawaja Nazimuddin. Liaquat’s assassination in October 1951 restored the earlier dominance of the office of the governor general when Ghulam Muhammad used his position, not his earned reputation as had jinnah, to dominate. He dismissed Nazimuddin in April 1953 although there was no indication that Nazimuddin had lost the confidence of the Constituent Assembly, a precursor to the self proclaimed constitutional power assumed by Zia ul Haq in 1985 and not ended until March 1997.
Ghulam Muhammad appointed Muhammad Ali Gogra, another relatively weak Bengali, as prime minister, continuing a short lived pattern that the governor general and the prime minister should be from different wings of the country, Throughout the years .following independence, the Constituent Assembly had been struggling to frame a constitution for the country. “When Ghulam Muhammad feared that the new constitution would severely curtail the powers of the governor general, he dismissed the Constituent Assembly in September 1954, A new “cabinet of talents” was appointed that ‘included nine member who had not been members of the dismissed Constituent Assembly. Among these were General Muhammad Ayub Khan and General Iskandar Mirza. These nine had not been elected, even indirectly, the dissolution touched off a major court case instituted by Tamizuddin Khan. in the case, the court, which had taken its time deciding, ruled that as a new Constituent Assembly had been elected, the”doctrine of necessity” required that the government must be continued. The court would hold to this doctrine until the Supreme Court ruled in the Nawaz Sharif case in May 1993 that the dismissal of the Sharif ministry
In the meantime, the 1954 provincial assembly election in East Bengal had resulted in a rout of the Muslim League by a United Front of the Awarni League and the Krishak Sramik Party that demanded greater participation by the East Bengalis who were a majority of the population of Pakistan, The election results were hardly [mal when Ghulam Muhammad dismissed the ministry of Fazl ul Haq, which clearly had the confidence of the legislature, and appointed Iskandar Mirza to rule as governor, while the legislature was placed in suspension. The new Constituent Assembly reflected the changed political circumstances in East Bengal (soon to be renamed East Pakistan).
Ghulam Muhammad retired from office in September 1955 and was replaced by Mirza, A month earlier. the Bogra ministry was replaced by one led by Chaudhri Muhammad Ali, a career bureaucrat who had been a key figure in the transfer of power to Pakistan. Muhammad Ali’s government passed a constitution that became effective in March 1956. It was a parliamentary system with a few wrinkles, most notably the system of “parity,” under which the two provinces of East Pakistan and West Pakistan (which had been formed by.a merger of the provinces of the west wing) would have an equal number of representatives in the parliament, there by diluting the value of a vote from East Pakistan. This Was not changed until Yahaya Khan in 1970 decreed that a “one person, one-vote” system would be used.
The 1956 Constitution was never placed into full effect as the national election scheduled to be held was never held. In October 1958, Mirza, now president under the new constitution, dismissed the parliament (the Constituent Assembly had continued as a parliament until and election could be held) and the cabinet and proclaimed martial law. The reasons put forward by Mirza need not be gone into here, but the action was unconstitutional. Ayub Khan was named chief martial law administrator, as well as prime minister, and soon realized that he no longer needed Mirza and sent him packing later the same month and assumed the presidency.
Ayub had earlier written a memorandum, in 1954, in which he called of a form of government that would “suit the genius of the people”. Although many prominent Pakistanis, including Chaudhri Muhammad Ali, Urged Ayub to restore the parliamentary system, his interpretation of “the genius of the people” was a form of indirect government, which he termed “basic democracy”, and a presidential system in which the powers of the National Assembly world be severely limited. All legislative bodies save the lowest level would be indirectly elected as would the presidency. The “parity” between East and West Pakistan would remain. There was no pretense of the people participating in the framing of the constitution. Ayub proclaimed the constitution in 1962. With this proclamation, martial law ended. but there were many restrictions on political activity, especially on politicians from the pre 1958 period.
By the fall of 1968, there was great dissatisfaction with the Ayub regime in both wings. Earlier, in January 1966, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had put forward Six Points demanding greater autonomy for East Pakistan. But instead of turning power over to the speaker of the National Assembly (from East Pakistan) as the constitution required, he put General Muhammad Yahya Khan in charge Yahaya declared martial law. He, however, did carryout his promise of elections and revoked the “parity” arrangement by basing the seats in a new Constituent Assembly on the population of the two wings. In December 1970, for the first time in the country’s history, the people of Pakistan voted for a national legislative body in direct elections, and these were generally deemed free and fair. What followed was not at all what Yahaya had planned for The demands of the East Pakistanis went well beyond Yahaya’s Legal Framework Order. Yahaya and his associates would not meet these nor would Zulfiqar Ali bhutto whose party won a majority of the seats in the west wing (West Pakistan having been divided into four Provinces). A chance for parliamentary democracy was lost as the assembly never met. What followed, of course, was the breakup of Pakistan and the independence of Bangladesh.
What followed in residual Pakistan was that a constitution was enacted in 1973, by a legislative body that had been elected prior to the loss of East Pakistan and, there fore, in an entirely different set of circumstances . (Mujibur Rahman in Bangladesh recognized this and held a new election in 1972. of course, that election was rigged to some extent ensuring an over whelming majority for the Awami League.) The constitution changed the locus of power from the president to the prime minister. The avoidance of representative government was best seen in the dismissal of the ministries in Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province although there was no indication of a loss of confidence by the ministries. To restrict further the voice of the people, the dominant party in the Frontier, the National Awami Party, was banned and its leaders jailed. National elections were delayed and when held in 1977 were rigged by the ruling party touching off the declaration of martial law on July 5, 1977, by General Muhammad Zia ul Haq. These need not be recounted here. When a legislative body was elected in 1985, the key change was that the president gained the power through a constitutional amendment to dismiss the PM, the cabinet and the legislature at his whim. Although the power was challenged successfully in the court once, this power remained until March 1997 and was last used in November 1996. Such power enabled the president to overrule the expressed will of the people and thereby to negate the concept of parliamentary democracy. Finally, the present prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, does not have that threat hanging over him. For the first time, Pakistan has a parliamentary system as that term is generally understood. Only a loss of confidence or a loss in an election can bring his government down constitutionally. A parliamentary system is in place.