Apr 24, 2019 Dr. Niaz Murtaza Comments Off on Centralized rule?
Dr. Niaz Murtaza
Our deep state strikes around every 20 years: 1958, 1977, 1999 and 2018. The first three strikes were overt, and centralized power in its hands instantly. The ensuing regimes achieved high growth via US aid initially. But predictably, centralized rule later failed badly in a very complex and diverse state.
The 2018 covert strike via alleged rigging gave the deep state partial centralization, but the favored party (PTI) has misfired hugely till now. But rather than accepting blame and being embarrassed by this, some are now using this misfiring to demand more centralization via Presidentialism and rolling back of the 18th amendment. This would transfer power from the provinces to Islamabad and there from elected to unelected persons. But major national changes must come from detailed written analysis and the duty for presenting it lies with those advocating change. The big clue that these are false ideas is the utter absence of detailed written analysis for them and the use of vague media talk alone to sell them. The logic given even there is overtly faulty.
Some say provinces lack the capacity for the new duties given by the 18th amendment, implying that the federal set-up does. But the federal set-up consists of persons drawn from the provinces. So why does it have capacity for provincial duties but not the provinces? Why is the capacity not being transferred? Also, the poor way it has dealt with many complex issues, e.g., circular debt and management of state units, raises doubts about its own capacity. So capacity needs beef-up at both levels. Some say the 18th amendment causes huge budget deficits. But we had such deficits earlier too. The provinces should certainly collect more taxes locally but so should the federal set-up nationally. The next NFC award should increase incentives for this. But there is no reason to roll back the 18th amendment, which has enhanced services in areas like health.
Some say most democratic states use Presidential systems, their edge being that Presidents can appoint qualified outsiders in cabinets instead of unqualified MPs. They say if people elect chief executives directly, they will elect honest, capable people. But Presidents elsewhere still come from the same parties that fill assemblies. The same will happen in Pakistan, with those who now become PM then becoming President. Though elected directly, they will win via a mix of their own voters and voters bussed by allied electables on poll day.
Later too, Presidents will need electables’ support to get bills and budgets passed in assembly or now even face US-type state shut-downs. They will thus owe major political debts to electables as currently. So they will perforce still appoint many electables or their relatives in cabinets, as they currently do for the Senate and reserved NA seats where on paper they can directly appoint able persons who can then become ministers. The number of technocrats in cabinets may increase somewhat under Presidencies. But technocrats are no panacea. Many working in our past regimes were very shady and inept persons. So Presidents may become less reliant on shady elected persons, but more so on shady unelected ones.
Thus Presidentialism doesn’t ensure good governance. Almost every well-governed country is a parliamentary one. Almost every Presidential one has much misrule. Our own growth rates under Presidentialism in years without large US aid were low. Presidentialism largely fails in diverse developing states like Pakistan. Thus, parliamentary system has a better track-record globally, regionally and locally.
So neither idea reflects strong proof. This is why one never sees detailed write-ups on them but only vague media talk. Lacking proof, the aim is to sell them via rhetoric. The real aim behind these ideas is not the public interest but the deep state’s “national” interest as moving power from provinces to Islamabad and from elected to unelected persons gives it more control. But for the rest, the picture should be clear. Centralized military or even elected regimes like Bhutto’s have always caused huge violence and damage. However ugly the face of devolved elected rule is, it causes much less damage than centralized rule in Pakistan.
Thus, we must improve the current system and not chase false ideas. It’s unclear how serious the deep state is about them. With the recent major shake-up, technocrats (most being shady and/or inept persons) already hog one-third of the new cabinet posts, and most economic ones. If it fails too, given the many inept persons in it, the deep state may want to centralize further via drastic steps rather than seeing the ills of centralization. Now it has changed the team and vice-captain. Next it may change the Captain. But this will enhance the mess it upped earlier by unwisely wading into politics in the PML-N era. The way out of the mess is for it to shun politics and let political forces negotiate a solution.
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