The office of the president in Pakistan and the hereditary rule of Britain’s monarch at first glance appear to be very distinct from one another where the former is a part of a democratic political system who is indirectly elected by the electoral college of Pakistan’s parliament for a required term of five years. Whereas on the other hand the latter follows a tradition of hereditary rule whereby a natural order of succession is strictly obeyed after the demise or even abdication of the British monarch that too for a term no less than a lifetime. However, if one begins to dissect, compare and weigh their dominion or say in the political system around them, it becomes less vague that both these offices hold minimal powers to the extent that the mere idea of their presence has become a common discourse among people.
In fact, on the contrary, their counterparts i.e. the prime ministers of the respective countries hold substantial powers such as that of legitimately running the government and so forth. But it was never a case like so. Over the course of time and the unfolding events of past, the power of the British monarch had been reduced from sky high to the ground. “The monarch controlled the army, made political appointments, called and dissolved the House of Commons whenever he or she liked and had all the high offices of state in his or her gift.
From the 1540’s onwards, the monarch even controlled the Church, appointing bishops and acquiring huge tracts of land which had formerly belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. In short, the monarch was No. 1.” (Jonathen, 2014) In a similar fashion, before the passing of the 18th amendment of the constitution of Pakistan, the office of presidency held the authority of dissolving the parliament that too on a unilateral basis. This particular amendment took away that power and secured the future from further potential rule of dictatorships. Which brings me to my next point that additionally during the decades of martial law that spread consistently around 1960-1973 and 1977-1985, the office of prime minister was logically absent and it was the office of the president that those military generals held.
Even though I am aware that the role of a president during martial law and that during a civilian leadership are two different scenarios and that the amendment was rationally carved out to minimize future from such rules, point being that with time, the figure of the president has constitutionally become nominal. We have grown up reading federal board textbooks that consistently used the term ceremonial to describe the role of Pakistan’s president in comparison to the heavily envied and fought-for position of the prime minister. But what does being ceremonial mean?
In literal as well as sub textual context and understanding, it indicates the presidency being a traditional – a ritualistic position backed by the iron fist of the constitution. In other words he or she is a thorough representative of the federation and the Islamic republic of Pakistan which is why the president is expected to be strictly apolitical and not anticipated to be biased towards any political party. For example: ex-president Asif Ali Zardari at the time of his presidency continued the membership of Pakistan People’s Party, PPP which undermined his loyalty towards the presidency and Pakistan as a whole. Whereas the current-day president, Mamnoon Hussain bid farewell to his membership of Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz, PML-N in 2003 as soon as he was appointed as the president.
The following citation states briefly the duties that the president is expected of and directs us towards the idea of it being ceremonial and puts its relevance in question. “As Head of State the President is obliged to take part in public ceremonies. This role includes duties such as the opening of new sessions of Parliament. Receiving the Credentials of Ambassadors, High Commissioners, welcoming visiting Heads of State hosting and participating in other civil ceremonies. Other activities at the community level include the opening of buildings, launching special events and appeals, delivering addresses, visiting hospitals and schools.” (office of the president ) Apart from granting pardons (which he can unilaterally), numerous other powers that he or she is supposed to have are basically those in relation to the prime minister.
For e.g. According to article 46 of the constitution of Pakistan, the prime minister cannot go about deciding by himself about the matters that are foreign and internal in nature. He or she must get in communication with the president to receive his or her consent and mandatory signatures. Now the irony in this article lies pretty much in its implementation. Though the right to be taken in confidence by the prime minister seems fundamental, theoretically.
In reality or logically, any prime minister would intend to support an individual volunteering for the post of presidency, who possesses a low profile personality that would make the settling of decisions become easy. Which explains that even those mandatory and relatively strong powers of the president can be manipulated and thus molded by the prime minister, alone. This makes the very claim of the presidency being an office that checks the prime minister, very meaningless. Take the example of Nawaz Shareef’s preference and acknowledgement of Mamnoon Hussain to stand for the post of president from his party. Talks are that Mamnoon Hussain had always been a loyal peer of Nawaz. However, after joining the office, according to an interview that President Mamnoon Hussain gave to BBC, he admitted that he only gets to meet (now ex) prime minister Nawaz Shareef roughly once a month.
He also added that he is not always included inside the bigger picture, neither thoroughly informed nor taken in confidence by him on matters that he is ought to discuss with the president. This explains a lot about the wheel of power dynamics that can be shifted whereby depriving the president of his legitimate and already minimal duties. In a similar manner of thinking, the duties assigned to Queen Elizabeth II through the constitution are more or less inclined towards her being a ceremonial figure head just like Pakistan’s presidency and a lot of commonalities can be drawn between both. In the actual political scenario, there isn’t a lot of intellectual work required of the queen as compared to that of Theresa May, the prime minister.
The royal prerogatives or the prerogative powers that are required of her include appointing bishops and members of the House of Lords, to be present in the opening sessions of the parliament, rewarding citizens with award titles and taking care of international diplomatic trips. The following excerpt also indicates the role of the queen as being ceremonial and strictly representative. “Although the Sovereign no longer has a political or executive role, he or she continues to play an important part in the life of the nation. As Head of the State, The Monarch undertakes constitutional and representational duties which have developed over one thousand years of history. In addition to these State duties, The Monarch has a less formal role as ‘Head of Nation’.
The Sovereign acts as a focus for national identity, unity and pride; gives a sense of stability and continuity; officially recognizes success and excellence; and supports the ideal of voluntary service. In all these roles the Sovereign is supported by members of their immediate family.” (Robyn, 2010) The only relatively important duty that the queen has to oversee is that of stamping away approvals to the legislations that have already been passed by both houses of the parliament. From this very stamping ritual comes the term that identifies her as a rubber stamp. Talks are that she would stamp away almost any legislation that is presented to her because of the belief that before any bill is passed on to her, myriad debates, discussions, researches and voting sessions have already been held in both the houses. The stamping decisions too are more or less taken in collaboration with her ministers which explains that much of the intellectual work is done by them for her. Even though the entire British family is adored for their etiquettes and luxury lifestyle and has always been highlighted by the social media and press.
Be it in form of love triangle of Diana, Charles and Camilla, the fairy-tale dream like marriage of Kate and William or Prince George’s first day of school. The royals have always been treated like celebrities. But point being, as discussed earlier, apart from minute political contributions, the queen doesn’t aid heavily to the political scenario of Britain. Much of her time is spent in arranging charities, throwing parties in the palace or making public appearances, which too has decreased overtime because of her age and her health. In simpler yet harsh words, the queen seems irrelevant and mostly unnecessary. Which is something that the British republicans have long been chanting.
“We want to see the monarchy abolished and the Queen replaced with an elected, democratic head of state. In place of the Queen we want someone chosen by the people, not running the government but representing the nation independently of our politicians. A head of state that’s chosen by us could really represent our hopes and aspirations – and help us keep politicians in check. Hereditary public office goes against every democratic principle.” You see these people want the monarchy to be out of their way for good and have an elected Head of State instead but I find this idea circling about the loophole suggesting the same argument that I have been trying to make since the start. Even if the future seems to be empty of the monarchy wouldn’t the president too have powers that are ceremonial in nature? Again consider the role of Mamnoon Hussain as the president of Pakistan. In the light of the discussion above, it gets pretty clear what stance I take in terms of their relevance.
Both aren’t entirely different, just entirely irrelevant. Setting a false illusion of the importance of their presence when in reality they hold minimal factual authority that too majorly inclined with the will of their counter parts. The illusion in terms of the royal family is maintained very easily through their exclusivity from common man. “According to a poll of 1,000 British people in the Independent, 76% of British want to keep Queen Elizabeth II and her monarchy while 17% want to get rid of it right away and establish a republic.” (Waugh, 2016) This makes their support for the monarchy an all-time high situation.
A lot of this is based on people’s emotional attachment and sentiments. On the other hand, as for Pakistan, the President as compared to his predecessors is relatively unpopular to the extent that he has become a laughing stock in popular culture discourse through social media memes stating that he only shows up in public twice or thrice a year and so forth. Point being, both the offices have become figures or eye candy for the public rather than important contributors of the political arena.