Understanding the difference between presidential corruption and enlightened despotism
In the world of governance, presidential systems are the least efficient, most corruptible, most prone to deadlock, most conflicted and the most pseudo-democratic. In a traditional presidential system as is seen in virtually all of Latin America, the United States, The Philippines and in some of Africa’s most economically backward countries, an elected executive regularly clashes with a separately elected and typically bicameral congress which in turn leads to extreme political deadlock that forces the weakest presidents to act in the manners of the most corrupt tyrants.
For decades, The Philippines suffered under just such a system and only now is there even a glimmer of hope that under the leadership of Rodrigo Duerte, the country will transition back to its roots as a parliamentary democracy that was envisaged by the earliest leaders of the Filipino independence movement who founded the short lived but politically superior parliamentary Malolos Republic.
In Pakistan, many have correctly grown tired of the extreme corruption in the country’s parliamentary system. However, the corruption that exists is not the fault of the parliamentary system’s structure in any sense. Instead, the fault lies with the fact that so-called strongman presidents (the worst of which was Musharraf) have often subsumed power during times of crisis and in so doing, they suspended the normal operations of the parliament – thus stunting the nation’s political development in the process.
This has allowed dynastic political mafias masquerading as normal political parties to take turns monopolising rule during times when a fledgling and immature parliamentary system has been restored. In this sense, Pakistan’s parliamentary system has not been allowed to develop properly because of multiple presidential figures who have interrupted the natural course of its development. The fact that one of the few peaceful transitions of power in Pakistan’s history produced a government led by the anti-dynastic PTI is symptomatic of the fact that as parliamentary systems mature, the old criminals will eventually be washed away by a tide of something that improves upon the old. This is not to say that PTI is perfect, but it is in this sense far better than what came before.
At this juncture it must also be made clear that whilst countries like China have a president, it is not a traditional presidential system by any means. China’s efficient and anti-corrupt system is actually the antithesis of modern presidential systems. China’s collective style of leadership is in many ways more similar to ancient democratic systems than it is to the corrupt and hopeless presidential systems in countries like Venezuela. Likewise, Turkey’s more or less two party system allows a hybrid-presidential system to just about work, but there is far more to the story.
Turkey’s democratic functionality is more due to the fact that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan actually solidified his popularity, built his political movement and made his most important reforms to Turkey when he was the Prime Minister in the country’s previous parliamentary system. In this sense, for Pakistanis who admire Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and its AK Party, one must remember that his legacy was built on the foundation of his ability to work successfully within a parliamentary system. As for Russia, Russia’s terrible American drafted 1993 Constitution whose clauses are totally alien to Russian culture and history was responsible for causing utter chaos in the 1990s. The only reason that there is relative political stability in Russia today is due to the fact that Vladimir Putin has created a virtual one party state. If this changes after 2024, the Constitutional will need to change radically in order to accommodate Russian public opinion.
Thus, when many Pakistanis talk about the supposed virtues of a “presidential system”, they are actually talking about what is universally known as enlightened despotism. In such a system, a national founding farther or major individual with a populist mandate rules in the manner of a benevolent but powerful monarch – albeit one in a modernised setting and with modern responsibilities. Such a system can work very well if the individual in question is a person with highly exceptional abilities, a highly moral character and a deeply charitable disposition. But the problem with such systems is that transitions are often incredibly difficult.
If there is any country that knows about difficult political transitions it is Pakistan, but if one were to invite an enlightened despot to rule over the country for life, when such an individual dies or retires, there is almost without exception and struggle to replace such a figure. Most of the time when this occurs, the venal, the craven, the avaricious, the vain, the corrupt, the foreign influenced and even the traitorous come to power. When this happens, all of the monolithic virtues of an enlightened despot are replaced by that of a fully fledged dictator. Under such a system, a weak individual who is not part of a larger parliamentary party could be easily bribed, blackmailed or coerced into destroying the nation from within. For Pakistan, if an enlightened despot gave way to a treacherous one after a difficult transition, the entire country could be broken apart and subsequently cease to exist. All of Pakistan’s neighbours apart from China clearly desire this and hence no patriotic Pakistan should advocate for this kind of government.
By contrast, if a strong patriotic party political system was able to take the place of the corrupt dynastic mafioso party political system that has for decades been dominant in Pakistan, true progress could be made. This ought to be the goal of those who seek the stability of enlightened despotism without its clear drawbacks. Instead of one enlightened individual, proper parliamentary systems allow for enlightened groups of individuals to form meritocratic and patriotic parties that lead to vastly more sustainable progress and stability than even the best versions of enlightened despotism ever could do. This in fact is why Singapore has been so stable and so prosperous ever since its founding as a parliamentary democracy under the enlightened leadership of founding father Lee Kuan Yew.
Proposal on domestic affairs
In theory, Pakistan’s parliamentary system is perfectly designed to deliver good and democratically transparent results in domestic affairs. The problem therefore is not the system of legislating and electing legislators. The problem instead lies within a lax approach to enforcing existing laws against corruption whilst in addition, new laws and much harsher sentences ought to be introduced so as to deter future corruption.
One of the reasons that Singapore is a society lacking in corruption is due to the fact that penalties against corrupt individuals ranging from a member of parliament to a street cleaner employed by the government are severe and are enforced with extreme swiftness.
In China, a country that has long favoured collective over individual rule, corruption at all levels of society is punished even more severely than in Singapore. In China, the death penalty tends to be the favoured method for cleansing society of corruption.
And thus, one arrives at Pakistan’s major problem. The problem lies not in the formation or foundations of parliamentary government but instead lies in a lax culture in which justice is bribed rather than served and the public at large have grown so cynical so as to forgive grave crimes committed against the nation by mafias masquerading as political parties.
Because of this, a new military-police force ought to be formed to enforce anti-corruption laws with all the vigour and professionalism of the Army and ISI. Pakistan’s parliament could be every bit as efficient as the one in Singapore when it comes to domestic affairs but before this can happen, the human scum must be physically removed in every sense. All that needs to be done is for corrupt individuals in public life to be rounded up in military style raids, tried before special anti-corruption courts whose proceedings would be televised across the nation and if guilty of corruption, they ought to be executed without haste.
After a year of purging criminal and corrupt elements from both national and regional politics, one would find that Pakistan’s parliamentary system would be able to function correctly and the people would be able to breathe happily once again.
Proposal on foreign affairs
The year began with India accidentally gifting Pakistan in the aftermath of a dangerous attempt to gift Modi’s BJP the electoral victory that with hindsight was all but inevitable. Whilst no international body has accused Pakistan of being behind the 14 February Pulwama incident and whilst India could not prove its far fetched allegations against Islamabad, New Delhi nevertheless launched an aggressive attack against Pakistan which backfired terribly. First of all, a so-called “surgical strike” on Pakistani territory resulted in the attacking jets dropping their payloads whilst retreating back into Indian airspace. As a consequence, a few dozen trees were the only casualties of an attack that India initially claimed killed over 200 “terrorists”.
Then, in an aerial dogfight, a Pakistani JF-17 Thunder downed an Indian Mig-21. During this event, Pakistani authorities performed their duty according to international law and rescued the downed pilot from an angry local mob before tending to his medical attention and later releasing him to India in short order.
This series of events gave Pakistan the moral high-ground and showed the world that Pakistan is a country that will react without overreacting and one that likewise seeks peace whilst preparing to defend against aggression.
And then, everything went downhill and fast. First there was news that Pakistan had banned peaceful rallies for Sikh democracy – aka the Khalistan movement. The same international Sikh grass roots activists that had rallied to Pakistan’s defence after Pulwama were prohibited from engaging in a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration whose essence was fraternal in spirit to Pakistan.
Shortly after this, Pakistan caved into pressure from the failed Kabul regime and cancelled a meeting that was scheduled between Afghan Taliban representatives and Prime Minister Imran Khan. This betrayed any sense of logic as American, Russian, Iranian and Chinese officials have met with Taliban officials in pursuit of bringing some sense of normalcy to Afghanistan. It is ludicrous that as Pakistan stands to gain more from a placid Afghanistan than America, Russia, China or even Iran, the Pakistan government caved into pressure from a regime that does not even control much (if not most) of its own territory. This of course came at a time when the wider world including many in Washington openly admit that Pakistan has a vital role to play in the all-parties peace process.
More recently, the same PTM that the civilian government had been walking on egg shells to appease has been exposed as an anti-state organisation that recently conducted a violent attack against the Army. Whilst ISPR has revealed PTM’s foreign links to the world, the civilian authorities have yet to designate the group as a terrorist organisation. This is both dangerous and dangerously embarrassing.
Now, after having insulted the Taliban, the only Pashtun faction in Afghanistan that is not explicitly anti-Pakistan, Imran Khan is set to host Kabul regime leader Ashraf Ghani, a man who is no longer even taken seriously by his American patrons, yet a man who still refuses to recognise Pakistan’s borders in spite of not even controlling those of his own nation.
When taken as a whole, this means that Pakistan’s government is in disarray and self-evidently the “opposition” parties are vastly worse. Due to the fact that Pakistan remains at war (however much liberals in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad may pretend otherwise) it is high time to reconsider not only Pakistan’s methodological but infrastructural approach to foreign policy and security matters.
Pakistan must consider transforming the Foreign Ministry into a High Council of Foreign Affairs And Regional Security. Such a Council would be comprised of a combination of highly patriotic independent experts, military commanders, ISI officials, some elected members of the National Assembly, representatives of all provinces and a small number of directly elected individuals. All and all, the Council ought to start with 15 members with the aim to expand as credible, strategic and intelligent patriotic voices rise to the fore.
The Council would continue its work uninterrupted in spite of any election cycles. New appointments to the Council could only be made through a 2/3rds vote of existing Council members that would later be approved by a simple majority of the National Assembly. Likewise, one could only be removed from the Council through a 2/3rd vote of other Council members or by a 2/3rds vote of the National Assembly.
Such a High Council of Foreign Affairs And Regional Security could not only harmonise the relationship between military and civilian authorities but it would help to largely de-politicise this relationship. Furthermore, by elevating foreign affairs to an apolitical status, it would mean that like the Army and ISI, foreign affairs could at long last begin to transcend the vulgar and petty nature of political points scoring.
Pakistan’s political class is letting the nation down by allowing foreign affairs and security matters to take a backseat to the inanity that continues to define Pakistani party politics. By creating a High Council of Foreign Affairs And Regional Security, democracy could continue to develop at pace whilst those protecting Pakistan would have a diplomatic voice whose professionalism could match that of the Army and ISI. The time to consider such a re-organisation of foreign and security affairs cannot come soon enough.