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created Jan 24th, 02:34 by AjitKumarVerma6287



542 words
7 completed
WE’RE at that stage of the electoral cycle where calls for instituting a ‘presidential system of government’ gain voice. One difference this time around though is that these calls are partly coming from supporters and members of the sitting government. Usually its frustration with the performance of a disliked government that makes some quarters talk about large-scale change. This time the gap between government expectation and performance is being bridged by a sympathetic review of the harsh constraints placed on a helpless PM by parliamentary democracy. Several commentators, most notably Fahd Husain on these pages, have already laid out the issue with such calls for presidentialism. But it remains worth stressing that for some people, the desire for a new form of government actually stems from a desire for greater discretionary power being given to the chief executive of the country, ie the prime minister (or president in their fantasies). This does not amount to a preference for presidentialism per se, it just shows a preference for authoritarianism. As much as some may think otherwise, presidential forms of government have both a legal-constitutional basis, and a number of checks and balances on them. Legislative power making laws and money powers passing expenditure plans and imposing taxes remain with the legislature. This can lead to a whole range of dysfunctions where the chief executive may be blocked from their own preferences for laws and spending by an intransigent legislature (the case of the US screams loudly on this). There is no rule by whim or fiat. Another argument given in favour is that it allows the induction of technocratic talent in executive positions, as is the case in the US. Experts can run ministries, rather than constituency politicians who lack domain knowledge. There may be some merit to it in theory, but our current Constitution has provisions for such an arrangement already, and, frankly, the track record of technocrats running ministries (where political decisions have to be made on a daily basis) is not stellar. In fact, a significant stumbling block in improving government performance exists in the organisation and performance of the bureaucracy, which will stay the same under fantasy presidentialism. Nothing about parliamentary government stops anyone from radically altering bureaucratic structure through legal and executive reform to improve it. There is, of course, a darker history to calls of enforcing presidentialism. They usually mask a distrust of devolution, a desire to accord greater power to the military establishment at the centre, and an undermining of rights of smaller provinces. And quite categorically, they have been associated with long periods of military rule. These are the historical conflicts that have shaped Pakistan’s current ruling arrangements; they have shaped how different political actors deal with one another; and most importantly, they have shaped the current Constitution. To put it simply, any substantial change to how the country is governed is a call for changing the Constitution. In its present form, the Constitution represents a resolution to historical political conflicts. Which ones in particular? The conflict between different ethnic groups for representation and rights in this country; second and relatedly, the conflict between different provinces on the distribution of resources; and third, the conflict between politicians and military leaders.

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