APROPOS the news report ‘Plea seeking referendum on presidential form of govt reaches SC’ (Sept 1). Quite a few reasons have been given in support of this plea, mainly by quoting Article 48(3) of the constitution.

The supporters of the presidential form of government quote Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s handwritten note dated July 11, 1947, saying “Dangers of Parliamentary form of government: 1) Parliamentary form of government – it has worked satisfactorily so far in England, nowhere else; 2) Presidential form of government (more suited to Pakistan)”.

The Quaid-i-Azam was then President of the Constituent Assembly and Governor General of Pakistan. In late 1930s at a session of the All India Muslim League he is also quoted to have spoken in favour of the presidential form of government. But nothing more is on record suggesting that the Quaid was for the presidential system. But what we do know is that he was for a “democratic form, embodying essential principles of Islam.” If we clearly know his mind on the form of government more precisely, it is courtsey his Aug 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly.

Given the utter failure of the parliamentary form of government, this latest call for referendum tends to acquire some relevance. We were already conscious of public concerns about education and health in the provinces. The 18th amendment handed over these two sectors to the province where they are receiving step-motherly treatment. And now the apocalyptic flooding in Karachi brings home the naked truth that the governments at the Centre and in Sindh are not on the same page.

But for the PTI stalwarts’ mindset for total control, the call for a referendum on the question of presidential government might have nurtured some support, also because the presidential form of government matches a totalitarian system, a legacy constitutionalised in 1962 by Ayub Khan.

Sikander Hayat

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2020