As the assets of the Special Assistants to the Prime Minister (SAPM) have been publicised, the incumbent government has yet again found itself in hot water with a new offensive brewing up that questions the legitimacy of such non-elected office holders.

Any debate regarding the PM’s kitchen cabinet would be incomplete without drawing inference from the USA’s ‘Spoils System’, which gives unfettered powers to the US President to appoint government officials, as he may deem appropriate. Shedding light on the spoils system, a senator from New York, William L Marcy authenticated such appointments through his famous words “to the victor belong the spoils”, paving way for political patronage.

Examples abound. Perhaps, the US provides the most compelling illustration in the 21st century as to how no eyebrows are raised over the appointment of Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law as his key advisors, despite all sorts of criticism on his various stories involving nepotism.

Bouncing back to the legitimacy of the Special Assistants in Pakistan, it is imperative to illuminate the relevant legal provisions that pave way for appointments of such officials. Article 260 of the constitution recognises special assistants to the PM or the Chief Minister of a province. Moreover, their appointments are legalised through Rule 4(6) of the Rules of Business 1973, which grants discretionary powers to the Prime Minister in appointing a special assistant.

So, why must authoritarian appointments be allowed in a so-called democratic setup like that of Pakistan? There are several, often interrelated principles, which are generally accepted as contributing to the current mindset of the current Prime Minister. Of these, four are noteworthy.

The first is appointing special assistants ensures specialisation since the mantra of the ‘right man for the right job’ is being adhered to. There is no harm in involving a few technocrats to steer policies, which can be formulated in a more professional way if compared to a parliamentarian who may lack such specialised capabilities.

Secondly, it can be argued that the current special assistants of the PM are in no way responsible for the success of the PM’s political party in the latest general elections and hence, their appointment cannot be disguised as political patronage. The current domestic setup, at hand, is by far a reformed version of the USA’s ‘Spoils System’ which was inherently aimed to reward party workers after presidential elections. Therefore, the fact that the special advisors of the PM are not his relatives or party workers is something that must be appreciated rather than being subject to constant criticism for political point scoring.

The third argument that arises is that in the current electoral system of Pakistan, would highly efficient masterminds be able to secure seats in the parliament, amidst a very familiar landlord mafia that is seated in the Assembly after every general election? A rational answer would point towards a big no. Hence, involving intellects such as Moeed Yusuf and Tania Aidrus in the policymaking process is not a big crime, as is being depicted by certain quarters in the country. In fact, western scholars who have come to the rescue in support of all the criticism and derogatory comments being made against the SAPM is itself an admission of their credentials that are being chucked away in the domestic circles.

Democracy ensures accountability. The fourth line of thought that addresses this principle is the fact that if the PM is held accountable for the condition of his country then he/she must have the leverage of choosing a team, he/she thinks appropriate for addressing all the problems he is being criticised for. Forcefully, opting for a cabinet consisting of elected members who might not be intellectuals in their respective ministries, accounts for unnecessary constraints on the PM who is subject to blackmailing at the hands of his own fellow parliamentarians. After all, if the general public is not content with the policies of the government, they can always be held accountable in the next general elections. This is what democracy is all about.

The opposition camp, seemingly aggrieved by the ongoing fiasco, has failed to take into account such arguments, chiefly because they find an opportunity to return to mainstream politics. It also compels one to beg the question that if the opposition seems so disgruntled by these laws, was there an attempt made on their part to amend them when they themselves held the reins of power?

If the US, despite being a presidential system, and championing democratic principles for decades, gives unfettered powers to its President to appoint his cabinet, whether family members or party workers, then why can’t Imran Khan appoint a few technocrats to steer policies? It is a question that will always haunt the Prime Minister of a democratically-insecure country.