Presidential vs Parliamentary system: Which suits Pakistan?

Presidential System vs Parliamentary system: Which one suits Pakistan?
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If you want to know what are Presidential and parliamentary systems, and which system suits Pakistan, then you have stumbled upon the right article. Both of these political systems are covered here! A political system is a system of rules and defined procedures in which institutions interact, makes decisions, and implement this decision. There are Two Political systems predominant in the World: The parliamentary system and Presidential System. Topic “Presidential vs Parliamentary system” and which one is better” is an endless debate. Experts recognize that both systems have their own benefits. But which system suits a particular country? The answer lies in that country’s history, the nature of institutions, and the literacy rate of people. Pakistan has a parliamentary system and the USA has a Presidential system.

There is another political system, called the Semi-Presidential system, in which both the president and Prime ministers have powers and authority. France and Russia have Semi-Presidential systems.

Presidential vs Parliamentary system- What are they?

A presidential system is a system in which President has the maximum and ultimate authority. The presidential system may have a Vice President or a Prime Minister but they don’t have any real powers. They work at the discretion of the president.

Some countries with a Presidential system are the USA, China, Argentina, Brazil, etc.

A parliamentary system is a system in which Prime Minister has the maximum and final decision-making powers. Almost every country that was colonized by Britain at some point in the last 200 years has a parliamentary system. There will either be a President or a Monarch as a titular head in the parliamentary form of government.

Countries with Monarch as a Titular HeadCountries with President as a Titular Head
ThailandSouth Africa

Organs of the State-The Foundation of Presidential vs Parliamentary system debate:

Any State has Three Organs:
1) Executive

2) Legislature

3) Judiciary

The executive is the head of the government. In the Presidential system, the executive is the president and in the parliamentary system, the executive is the Prime minister. The legislature is the parliament of any country. Judiciary consists of the Supreme court, High Court, and other inferior courts. Their relations to each other are different in these two political systems.

Differences in “Presidential vs Parliamentary System”:

1) Separation of Powers:

The main difference between the Presidential vs Parliamentary system is based on the relation or separation between the Executive and Legislature.

In the Presidential system, there is a strict separation between the Executive and Legislature. President and his cabinet are not part of the legislature (Parliament). Every organ of the state (Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary) is strictly separated. No organ performs the function of others. President is not a part of the legislature and no serving legislature member can President. There is a separate election for President and Separate elections for Parliament.

In a parliamentary system, there is a fusion of executive and Legislature while Judiciary is separate. Thus, the Separation of power is not strict. The Prime minister and his cabinet ministers are part of Parliament. Thus, Prime Minister performs the functions of both the executive and legislator. Some use this point as a plus in the debate while some call it against democratic norms and close to autocracy.

2) Voting systems :

In the Presidential system, The Executive (President) is directly voted by the People while in the Parliamentary system, the executive (Prime minister) is first elected as a Member of parliament. And then all elected members vote to elect Prime Minister. Generally, the leader/Chairman of the party with most members in Parliament becomes Prime Minister.

3) Answerability and responsibility:

During the comparison, we can clearly see the difference in their Answerability and responsibility. In Presidential System, the Executive (President) is not answerable to Parliament because he is not elected by them. He is answerable to People only.

In the Parliamentary system, the Executive (Prime Minister) is answerable to both Parliament and the people. An executive of the parliamentary system is first elected as a member of parliament by the people. Then all the elected members of Parliament vote who should become Prime Minister among them. Generally, Party’s leader becomes Prime Minister. For example, Imran Khan in Pakistan and Narendra Modi in India.

4) Difference in Cabinet appointments:

In the Presidential system, the Executive’s cabinet is not a part of parliament. President selects people who he/she wants to. Thus, cabinet members are only answerable to President only.

In the Parliamentary system, the Executive’s cabinet is a part of parliament. The Prime minister selects his cabinet from Parliamentarians. Therefore, the executive’s cabinet is answerable to both him and parliament.

5) Difference of the Head of the government in the Presdiential vs Parliamentary system:

In Presidential System, President is both the Head of the state and the Head of the government. There is a difference between the titles “Head of the state” and “Head of the government”.

Simply put, the Head of the government is the head of the cabinet while The Head of the state is a titular head with no decision-making powers of its own. The Head of the State does what the Head of the government tells him to do. For Example, the President of Pakistan or Monarch in the UK is Head of the State with no real exercisable powers.

In the Parliamentary system, Prime Minister is the head of the government while Monarch or President is the Head of the State.

6) How Decisions are reached:

In the Parliamentary system, debates are held in Parliament to reach a decision. This is a Representation of true democracy. E.g. Pakistan decided not to join the Saudi-led Yemen war after rounds of debates in the Parliament.

In the Presidential system, President decides everything. He just takes advice from his cabinet members. He does whatever he wants to do. Moreover, cabinet members are working just to please him. So, they mostly give advice that is in the interest of the President and not in the country. However, decisions in the presidential system are quickly reached. President doesn’t have to care about what the parliament wants but In the Parliamentary system, everything is debated.

Why Parliamentary system Suits Pakistan?

In Pakistan, the Presidential vs Parliamentary system debate happens very often. Some are in favor of the Presidential system while some are in favor of the Parliamentary system. Pakistan had Parliamentary system since the beginning with some ups and downs due to martial laws.

Since the Partition, there is a debate about What the political system of Pakistan should be. No consensus about the political system caused the 9-year delay in making the first constitution of Pakistan- The 1956 Constitution. Comparing this with arch-rival India, Indian lawmakers completed and adopted the first-ever constitution in 1949. Therefore, the parliament of Pakistan was fragile and ineffective from the start. So, it is unjustified that because the Parliamentary system was predominant in early history and also throughout the history, it is the root of all the evils. We have to truly develop parliamentary and democratic norms to fully harness parliamentary system benefits.

Presidential system vs Parliamentary system. Pic contains Parliament of Pakistan- where important decisions are reached now.
Parliament of Pakistan- where important decisions and debates like Presidential vs Parliamentary system are conducted.

Most Philosophers, scholars, and politicians in the Political system debate choose the parliamentary system for Pakistan. The reason is the advantages of the Parliamentary system.

Advantages of Parliamentary System:

1) Ultimate sovereignty of People:

In the Presidential system, the cabinet is appointed by President only and not by the people. However, in the Parliamentary system, cabinet members are members of parliament who are directly voted by the people. Therefore, MNA’s are answerable to both Parliament and people.

2) Co-operation between Executive and Legislature is harmonious:

In the Presidential system, there is a strict separation between executive and Legislator. Even their elections are separate. There is a possibility that President is from a different party and the majority in parliament is of a different party. In the USA, When Donald trump, A Republican, was President, the majority of Congressmen were Democrats. So, in a country like Pakistan, this system will be an unstable one. There won’t be harmony and can cause the political system to collapse.

As there is now a parliamentary form of government, the Executive is not only from Parliament, but also has the majority in parliament. If he wills, he can pass any law. Hence, due to this smooth functioning of government, the Presidential vs Parliamentary system debate goes in favor of the Parliamentary System.

3) Administration is easy in the Parliamentary system:

As there is a fusion between legislature and executive, communication is easy and responsiveness is rapid. This leads to better administration. In a country like Pakistan where the administration is an issue even in the Parliamentary form of government, the Presidential system could prove to be disastrous.

4) Presidential system is liked by Dictators:

This is one of the most talked-about points when discussing political system in Pakistan. Whenever the Military has taken over Pakistan, they have tried to introduce Presidential system elements in the country.
Ayyub Khan completely overhauled the Parliamentary system and Introduced the Presidential system in 1962. This had the worst impact on people and democracy. People could not directly vote for President. Thus, alienation among people rose. Now, this system is considered to be one of many reasons why East Pakistan was separate from West Pakistan.

The Parliamentary history of Pakistan is ridden with some notorious changes. When Zia Ul Haq took over, he introduced 58–2(B) in the 1973 constitution. This transformed the Parliamentary system into a Semi-Presidential system. According to this clause, President can dismiss the government if he thinks it cannot function smoothly. Zia also used this notorious clause to dismiss Prime Minister Junejo. Furthermore, this clause was the reason why the elected governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Shareef got dismissed in the 1990s. Nawaz Shareef abolished this clause in 1997. Pervaiz Musharraf re-instated this clause when he took over the country. Thus, Dictators in the past have abhorred the Parliamentary system. To have a stable country with a stable political system, political activists should work to strengthen the parliamentary system in Pakistan.

5) Parliamentary system is Flexible:

In the parliamentary system, it is easier to introduce and alter laws and clauses according to the changing needs of the modern world. For example, Parliament voted for Military courts after APS Attack. The same goes for the 18th amendment which truly made Pakistan a Parliamentary state.

In the Presidential system, it is a complicated step to introduce any amendment. That is why there is a total of 27 amendments in the USA constitution since 1787. This inflexibility is the reason why Gun laws in the USA are non-existent and we hear shooting incidents in this country very often.

6) Unlike the Presidential system, the Parliamentary system offers greater accountability:

Whenever a dictator has become a president, he never faced accountability during his term. But there are cases of prime Ministers being held accountable. Examples are Yousuf Raza Gillani and Nawaz Shareef. Moreover, Prime Minister is accountable to both parliament and the People while President is accountable to the people only.

Why Accountability by people is a façade?

Accountability by people is perhaps the most important aspect of democracy. But it is not enough. Why? Because this type of accountability generally happens after 4 years when elections are near. President is almost unaccountable during his term. Thus, this system does not suit Pakistan where the corruption index tells a sad story about the corruption rate in the country.

Furthermore, media is now shaping minds. Cambridge Analytica Scandal is the modern case in which Social Media giant Facebook had to pay a fine for obtaining personal users’ data and using it for Political mind shaping. Specific people saw specific ads on Facebook to shape their minds. Therefore, it is now becoming easy to change Public opinion. So, accountability by such minds is surely not enough in a country like Pakistan where the literacy rate is low as well.

How Parliament hold Prime Minister and the cabinet accountable?

There are committees in the parliament like Public Accounts committee who audits the government’s performance. Moreover, the opposition closely observes government activities to gain any political leverage. Thus, accountability procedure is strict in the Parliamentary form of government. Scholars in favor of the Parliamentary form of government use this point extensively during the Presidential vs Parliamentary system debate.

Conclusion of The Presdiential vs Parliamentary system debate:

The political system of a country described in the constitution is the base where a country’s government stands. The presidential vs Parliamentary System is a topic of endless debate. Scholars from both sides provide logical reasons or their preferred systems. Most of them are in favor of the Parliamentary government system in a country like Pakistan. Political history, martial laws, corruption, and literacy rate- all do not suit the Presidential form of government. Therefore, the Parliamentary system suits Pakistan.

Which System do you think should be preferred. Let us know your opinions in the comment section!

Also Read: FATF – Pakistan still on the grey list! Why?

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