Understanding presidential democracy

An intense debate is being carried out on social media on the enforcement of the presidential system in Pakistan, which has invited the wrath of opposition parties and critics of the presidential system. The advocates of the presidential form of government are of the view that all major powers, including the US, China, Russia, and France have a presidential form of government and this system makes the decision-making process much easier, and that it is more stable and ensures continuity in government policies.
But many in the country believe that the presidential system is synonymous with dictatorship as it is one-man rule. They further hold that the presidential system has been tried, tested and found to be flawed and failed in a country in the past.
Unlike the US, after the partition of the subcontinent, the constitution-making process was not a matter of reflection and choice but depended on the vicissitudes of time and power politics. We were unable to come out of the lasting spell of the Government of India Act, 1935 which remained in the constitution of Pakistan till the framing and enforcement of the first constitution of Pakistan in 1956.
The 1973 Constitution, though it declared itself a federal state with parliamentary government at the centre, was a result of limited choices. It is true that Pakistan has experienced different kinds of governments; from democracy to military dictatorship, to civilian martial law by Z.A. Bhutto but governance has been construed as a seminal issue.
It is erroneous to equate the presidential system with a dictatorship as those are completely different notions. Like a parliamentary democracy, the presidential system too is a form of a democratic system. In the presidential system, the president is elected either directly by the people or through an electoral college which concentrates the executive power in this office.
It is also pertinent to mention here that under the presidential form of government, the president cannot act capriciously, arbitrarily or according to his own personal whims. His actions are subject to scrutiny either by the parliament or judiciary depending upon the model of presidency. For instance, the congress in the US has the power to impeach the president on the grounds of conviction, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours. It can refuse to ratify a treaty negotiated by the president. The US Supreme Court can declare a presidential action repugnant to the Constitution if the same is ultra vires to the constitution.
If the people in Pakistan want Presidential democracy, it can be introduced through a Constitutional Amendment. The Parliament can amend the constitution with two-thirds majority of its members. A referendum can also be held under Article 48 of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, which reads as “if the Prime Minister considers it necessary to hold a referendum on any matter of national importance, he may refer the matter to a joint sitting of the Parliament and if it is approved in the joint sitting, the Prime Minister may cause such matter to be referred to a referendum in the form of a question that is capable of being answered by either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.”
Given the current political scenario, the presidential system is not perilous for democracy but, in reality, it is a threat to the vested interest of the corrupt political elite of our country. Those who hold that the presidential system failed in the past should not ignore this fact that the previous models of presidency were introduced to this country by military dictators who had designed them according to their own requirements to keep themselves in power.

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