Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam describes an essential
component of the state
Presence of Political Executive – The current crisis of governance in Pakistan is the result of the political executive of the country going haywire and behaving arbitrarily within its domain as well as undermining the laid-down preserve of the other. It is in this context that the issue of political executive is required to be reviewed and evaluated in its correct perspective. This perspective is directly related to the evolution of state that is a multidimensional phenomenon and one of its essential components is the emergence and consolidation of the concept and position of the political executive usually considered to be steering agenda of the state. Political executives in the contemporary world are very powerful even if they head democratic systems in which there are constitutional and customary limitations to what they can do. Political executive is known in the common parlance as government and it is recognised to exist in a state that has arguably uncontested last word. The modern state cannot now be imagined without a national political executive, while bodies such as legislatures, parties, or interest groups exist only where the polity is, at least relatively speaking, democratic following a liberal agenda. The centrality of the political executive in a state has made it important to look at both the composition and the power of national political executives. In this context it is noted that the composition of political executive varies appreciably in terms of the relationship among government members because of the variations and indeed even marked disagreements over what they can effectively achieve with whatever powers they may formally have.
Currently, national political executives are widely accepted as a norm but this situation was quite uncertain even in the last century. The viability and its attendant acceptability developed gradually and it proved to be an evolutionary process. The idea of a government prevailed in monarchies, as kings or queens came to appoint secretaries or ministers to oversee the fields that had to be covered, such as those of finance, foreign affairs and defence. This model was widely adopted in the absolute monarchies but against this trend emerged the modern liberal republic with constitutional boundaries defining the remit of all aspects involved in governance. The evolution toward a liberal-democratic government was to lead to the emergence of a parliamentary-cabinet system which was to characterise much of Western Europe. On the other hand, there was a contrasting form of government practiced in America though it possessed almost all functions of political executive contained in the parliamentary system. Though exceptions kept on occurring in its structural composition but gradually the contours of political executive standardised in most of the modern world and any state that did not follow it was looked down upon.
What is viewed currently is that national political executive is recognised to be the body that governs the state and has an overriding authority over its affairs. The composition of this body varies from state to state as well the relationship between its members owing to their respective perceptions and approach. There are predominantly two types of national political executives known as the presidential and the parliamentary-cabinet type. While that dichotomy does correspond to a major distinction, there are variations within each of the two groups. There is also an intermediate type known as semi-presidential practiced in France, Finland, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and South Korea. The system is based on a sharp division among three state powers; executive, legislative and judiciary with the underlying assumption that none of these powers can encroach on the others, a distinction that is particularly relevant with respect to the relationship between the executive and legislative powers.
The structure and composition of the national executive in parliamentary-cabinet system followed in Pakistan that allows members of the government, typically a cabinet, to run the affairs of the state. In the cabinet system, it should enjoy the confidence of parliament to be able to remain in office and that the cabinet takes its decisions collegially. The prime minister is the head of the cabinet and therefore a part of it with the cabinet forming a team and they stand or fall together. Moreover, given the part played by parliament in the whole structure, cabinet members are typically drawn from among members of parliament. A further indirect consequence is that the duration of a cabinet is not fixed in advance but depends on the maintenance of parliamentary support. Furthermore, and again largely because the cabinet needs the support of a majority in parliament, cabinets may be based on coalitions among two or more parties. There can be single-party governments when one party enjoys an absolute majority in parliament or when the government commands minority party support only but has negotiated a promise from some of the other parties that they will vote for the impending government. In this case, but also in cases of coalitions, formal agreements that aim at determining in advance what the policy of the government will be are needed.
While elaborating upon the political executives, due care is required to be assigned to the nature of executive power. It is generally agreed upon that executive power is difficult to define as it is not based only on the powers that constitutions give to these bodies. As a matter of fact, most constitutions are somewhat vague or even misleading in this respect, to the extent that they may suggest that legislatures are in charge of the lawmaking process. This may be true from a purely constitutional point of view but it is rarely true in practice. Moreover, the word executive conveys the impression that executives merely execute policies or ideas that have originated elsewhere whereas in reality legislation is prepared by the government. Executives have in reality to fulfill three different functions: those of initiation, coordination, and implementation. The skills required of political executive to fulfill satisfactorily these three governmental functions are very different as initiation implies imagination to ensure that the new policy will be attractive and effective, coordination entails being able to work closely together with other members of the government, and implementation means managing public service bodies that are often very large and whose permanent officials may prefer to postpone new developments.
In the process of managing these considerations the political executives may find it difficult to carry out all three sets of activities well. The problem is particularly serious in parliamentary-cabinet systems followed by Pakistan as these are officially collective and at least collegial. It is in this type of executive that the members of the cabinet—the ministers—are expected to have the skills required to initiate, coordinate, and implement policies. In such systems the government does indeed need majority support of the legislature to remain in existence and, by and large, that support exists because it is sustained by one or more parties that constitute the majority. In most democratic parliamentary systems the political executive is broadly able to achieve its goals and every effort is made to ensure that it happens otherwise the political executive may face crisis as is happening in Pakistan. It is very evident that the underlying features of a political executive functioning on the principles of trichotomy of powers have been badly jumbled up in Pakistan with every organ of the political executive vying with each other and encroaching upon each other’s turf. The Weekender