Democracy was well defined as “the government of the people, by the people and for the people” by President Abraham Lincoln. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s history of governance can be summed up as “the government of the elites, by the elites and for the elites”, where the waderas, the chaudhries, the sardars, and the industrialists ruled the roost - mostly misusing their authority and indulging in graft with impunity. The khakis intervened from time to time to “stem the rot”, but soon became party to the corrupt system when they tried to prolong their rule by joining hands with the politicians.

After 65 years of “see-saw” between the ‘failed’ civil and military governments, it should have become abundantly clear that the so-called parliamentary system of governance, supposedly based on the British Westminster Model, will never work for us because of our peculiar circumstances, psyche and inherent shortcomings in the body politic.

To start with, we do not really follow the Westminster Model. There, the Upper House (the House of Lords), is entirely composed of nominated technocrats and professionals. Thus, the technocrats and public representatives together contribute to the British system of governance.

In our case, the Upper House, i.e. the Senate, allows only 10 percent seats for the technocrats or professionals and, that too, includes religious scholars. Thus, there is hardly any participation of the technocrats or professionals in our system of governance: a critical deficiency considering that the majority of our parliamentarians are not highly educated - unlike the British. As a result, we have witnessed extremely poor governance by almost all the politically-elected governments.

The second and even more important factor for good governance, and one which is the basis of democracy, is the discerning polity, i.e. the public at large - the voters, who are supposed to vote out the leaders who are incompetent or corrupt and elect a new lot every few years, in the hope for better governance. This logic of democracy looks good in theory, but, in practice, it does not happen in a third world country like Pakistan. The recent by-election that was held in Multan is a glaring example of the failure of this basic principle of democracy.

The great philosopher Plato had said: “The major function of the state was to facilitate the rule by the virtuous elites.” He scorned the politicians, “who maintained their hold on public office by trucking to the illiterate masses, who were unfit to elect an efficient government.” Amazingly, what Plato said nearly 2,500 years ago, truly fits our circumstances today. The majority of our voters are illiterate; two-thirds live in rural areas; they tend to stick to their political party regardless of its performance and invariably vote for their feudal masters or ‘biradaries’. Also, many of them being very poor sell their votes.

Besides this, the electoral lists may contain a large number of fictitious voters, as was the case in the last general elections (nearly 40 percent bogus votes were cast). On top of that, there is generally low turnout (around 30 percent). Thus, the basic premises on which the entire edifice of democracy rests, i.e. the discerning polity and majority casting their votes, does not hold good in our case. As a result, our elected representatives do not actually represent the voice of the majority.

In addition, there are other serious drawbacks in our parliamentary system of governance. For instance, the prime minister or chief minister is elected indirectly by the MNA’s or MPA’s, who demand their “pound of flesh”. Thus, the PM/CM is forced to oblige them with ministries, development funds or plots (unlike any other properly functioning democracy in the world). For example, during this government, we saw nearly 90 ministers and advisors appointed at the federal level and almost all of Balochistan’s MPA’s as ministers. Thus, the taxpayers’ money is squandered away and huge debt is piled up just to meet the lavish running expenditure, leaving little for development or social uplift of the masses.

Perhaps, the most serious drawback of the parliamentary system is that the cabinet ministers, who run the government, are chosen from amongst the elected parliamentarians. Since the elected representatives are obliged to their supporters, they stuff the public departments and corporations with their cronies, mostly without merit and in violation of the law. Over the years, thus, most of our public entities had been paralysed through political interference. The police is a glaring example of an utterly failed public institution. The public sector entities, like the Steel Mill, PIA, and Railways, also have virtually collapsed and are a constant drain on public funds that could otherwise be put to better use.

The question is: where do we go from here? While we must stick to the democratic form of governance, we must opt for a system that has the maximum chances of succeeding in spite of our endemic shortcomings, of both the polity and the public representatives. Against this backdrop, the presidential system of governance - like that in the US - would work better by providing a mix of the elected representatives and the selected technocrats.

In the presidential system, the president is directly elected by the people. He is not obliged to his congressman for his term in office, nor is there any concept of coalition partners, who generally impede good governance. And he cannot be voted out through a no-confidence vote. Thus, the chances of the chief executive being blackmailed in the presidential form of government are far less.

The president selects a team of highly qualified technocrats or professionals called the administration to run the government. No public representative (congressman) by law can become a member of the administration. Thus, it is run by thorough professionals with least political interference in the state institutions. The representatives only make laws for public good, and monitor the administration’s performance and control the purse strings to ensure its prudent expenditure.

It may be noted that the presidential system is somewhat akin to the Islamic democratic system practised in the days of ‘Khulfa-e-Rashdeen’, where the affairs of the state were run by the ‘Ameer-ul-Momineen’ (president) with the help of handpicked experts (technocrats), while the Majlis-e-Shoora (like the Congress) kept an eye on the government’s performance. We must admit the fact that our style of parliamentary democracy is nothing but a hoax - a far cry from the real democracy, both in letter and in spirit. It is most ill-suited to our circumstances and will never work for us till doomsday!

“God does not change the destiny of a nation, unless it considers to do so itself” (Al-Quran).

The writer is a retired air chief marshal. Email: marshalmm@gmail.com