ISLAMABAD is once again in the grip of rumours. The latest issue finding traction revolves around a mysterious campaign that appears to be pushing for a presidential system and even the imposition of an emergency in the country. Such rumours are best ignored but that is hard to do when parliament sits up and takes notice. The opposition has found the matter serious enough to submit a resolution in the National Assembly expressing the resolve to strengthen the parliamentary form of government as provided in the 1973 Constitution. “When the government, imposed through rigged elections, has ruined the country, then whisperings of imposition of an Indira Gandhi-like emergency and change in the system through various formulas are being heard,” tweeted PML-N MNA Ahsan Iqbal. The opposition has also pointed a finger at the PTI government accusing it of being behind this whispering campaign. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has however denied this and said such talk is nothing but “fake news” that the media has picked up from non-verified social media sources.
This is unfortunately not the first time that such rumours have germinated in our political landscape that is clearly quite fertile for their growth. Talk of a presidential system recurs at fairly regular intervals and is supported by the ‘usual suspects’ who blame parliamentary democracy — and not the mal-intent and incompetence of those running it — for failures of governance. However, most of them suffer from selective memory and conveniently forget that the country has experimented with a presidential system a number of times, and with disastrous results. Those arguing for such a centralised system have so far not been able to build a persuasive case about how this system would resolve the failure of governance. In any case, if the people of Pakistan prefer a presidential form of government on the lines of the United States or France, then there is a constitutional way of making this change. By a two-thirds majority, parliament can make a constitutional amendment and change the parliamentary form into a presidential form of government. There is no other legal way of doing this.
While all these rumours may be a convenient distraction from the very real problems plaguing the country, and therefore not reflecting any serious move from any quarter, they do inject an added element of uncertainty in an already unstable political environment. This has an adverse impact on the economy. What the country needs at this stage is political stability and an end to the constant turbulence born of political wrangling. The markets need to feel comfortable, as do investors. Needless distractions and whispering campaigns create inorganic chaos that fuels further instability. Pakistan’s politics needs to settle down to a rhythm that is predictable in a systemic way and does not spring surprises when none are needed. These rumours should die a natural death.
Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2022