ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a set of appeals seeking immediate holding of a nationwide referendum by Prime Minister Imran Khan to pave the way for presidential system against the prevalent parliamentary form of government.
A three-judge SC bench headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial upheld the registrar office’s decision to return the four petitions moved by Advocate Sahibzada Ahmed Raza Qasuri, Dr Sadiq Ali, Hum Awam Pakistan chairman Tahir Aziz Khan and Hafeez-ur-Rehman.
The bench observed that the presidential form of governance had brought harm to the country, adding that the petitioners could launch a political movement if they really wanted to introduce the presidential system in the country as the Constitution did not provide any remedy to the Supreme Court to change or abolish the present system of governance.
The court also reminded the petitioners that the very essence of the 1973 Constitution was parliamentary democracy and without any clear direction by the green book, the Supreme Court had no authority to intervene in such matters.
The court could have considered the petitions had it been moved by political parties, Justice Bandial observed.
Justice Muneeb Akhtar, a member of the bench, recalled that the presidential system introduced by Gen Ayub Khan had led to disintegration of Pakistan.
Justice Bandial asked Ahmed Raza Qasuri why did he approach the Supreme Court when a strong and vibrant political system of governance was available in the country.
Advocate Qasuri said the lawmakers wasted time in trading barbs against each other rather than discussing the interest and welfare of people. In such a scenario should he behave like a silent spectator, he wondered.
Justice Akhtar recalled that Gen Ayub Khan had conducted a referendum for presidential system in the country in 1960.
Justice Bandial regretted that the country had suffered as a consequence of the presidential system, wondering whether the petitions wanted to see repeat of the situation prevalent during 1958. He also wondered under what principle or law the court should order switching to the presidential form of government.
Justice Akhtar asked whether the presidential system guaranteed the welfare of the people.
The petitions had claimed that the fundamental rights of people provided under Chapter 1 of Part II of the Constitution were being infringed by the failure of the present parliamentary form of government to deliver on their welfare and well-being and progress in different fields of life. “It is, therefore, in the interest of justice that they be given a fair chance to choose presidential form of government if they so want,” the petitions pleaded.
“The poor condition of the masses directly reflects upon the system of the government in Pakistan since the parliamentary system has utterly failed,” the petitions claimed, adding that as of March 2020 the country’s public debt was estimated to be about Rs42.8 trillion or $256 billion.
“This huge burden is 98.2 per cent of GDP, and external debt of Pakistan is around $112bn,” the petitions said, adding that Pakistan owed $5.765bn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when 25pc of Pakistan’s population lived below the poverty line.
“At present the average HDI (Human Development Index) and GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of Pakistan is the lowest compared to other South Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan.
“In our parliamentary system, the members of parliament are in the habit of changing loyalties and are out to blackmail and pressurise the government to promote their own personal interests. It is for this reason that often a healthy opposition and a strong government cannot emerge to take care of the welfare and well-being of the people.
“There is little legislation in the assemblies and the meetings of legislatures often fail due to shortage of quorum,” the petitions regretted, adding the monitoring role of the opposition was often compromised.
Moreover, the petitions argued, there was no system of separation of powers between the executive and the legislature and this had been the principal cause of politicisation of the administration, non-professionalism, nepotism and corruption.
“The people who are posted at sensitive posts are often not eligible for those posts and are appointed without being competent for those posts to win over the members of the opposition and allies of the government.
“While the executive head and his ministers are not always competent since the selection of the cabinet members has to be made from the members of parliament, the National Assembly or the Senate, competent people are not often available to improve the quality of governance,” the petitions argued.
“Many of these problems are automatically removed in the presidential system and, therefore, the presidential form of government is suitable for Pakistan because in exercising his powers, the president requires no help from parliament to implement his agenda. Thus the presidential form of democracy puts the decision-making process on a fast track,” the petitions contended.
The petitions also cited examples of the countries which have made a lot of progress by replacing their parliamentary form of government with the presidential system like Turkey where a constitutional referendum was held on April 16, 2017 on whether the office of the prime minister should be abolished and the existing parliamentary form be replaced with an executive presidency.
Likewise, in France, a popular referendum was held on Sept 28, 1958, which approved the constitution of the French 5th Republic, replacing the French Parliamentary Republic with a presidential form of government.
Another example of successful presidential system is Pakistan’s neighbour Iran, which has a presidential form of government since 1979 despite strict economic sanctions by the United States and the United Nations. The country has made a lot of progress and is far ahead of Pakistan financially and politically.
According to the petitions, Indonesia, Russia and China are all now developed countries because they have adopted presidential form of government.
“It’s apparent from the mainstream media as well as social media that an overwhelming majority of Pakistan are fed up with the parliamentary form of government and want to adopt the presidential form of government,” the petitions claimed.
Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2021