Essay on Presidential Versus Cabinet form of Government

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An unofficial cum semi-official debate was raised in India during the later days of the Prime Ministership of the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Some ministers close to Mrs. Gandhi in thinking like Mr. Vasant Sathe, the then Information Minister openly propagated in favour of the Presidential form. Mrs. Gandhi too did not oppose it. It is said that Giani Zail Singh was installed as the President so that there may be a smooth sailing from the seat of Prime Minister to that of the President, if the plans succeed. With the untimely death of Mrs. Gandhi the issue was not heard for a long time. But it has at least raised a question—does India require a Presidential form? Will it be in the interest of the nation; and will it keep the roots of democracy intact?

The protagonists of Presidential form have always been giving the example of the United States of America where the president has tenure of four years. For four years the executive is well settled and can do whatever it likes. The planning is not hampered by the long interventions and delaying tactics of the legislature. The decisions are prompt and the implementation is quick.

In President the people have a de facto head of the executive or the State and not a fake one like Indian President or the British Sovereign. The people may look to the President as their true representative—symbol of their ambitions while the President may shower his beneficence over the people, as Mr. Reagan did in the form of elite egalitarian culture in the United States.

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One more advantage in the Presidential form is, as it is in the USA where one cannot contest the Presidential election for more than two times, that there is less of politicization. The President has no long term plans for himself to remain in power. Since he has no eye on the seat of power beyond two terms he has not to please anyone (to gain votes) out of the way.

The President can objectively chalk out a programme in the interest of the nation as a whole-not in the interest of a linguistic, regional, economic, religious or ethnic group. He is the symbol of national unity and integrity. It all sounds very good, more so because with this form the USA has become the most powerful and the richest country in the world.

But a system that suits one country may not suit all the countries. The opponents too have very strong arguments. In the United States of America democracy has reached a matured stage. It is the oldest in the modern world—two century old. Political consciousness has reached its height 95% of the people are educated. It has established a system that the executive head will have to think twice before taking any liberties. As Kennedy trying to be over popular may face a bullet and a Nixon for his political expediency may face public impeachment and resign. There are checks and balances not from an opposition but from the over vigilant people of the country.

When Presidential form is adopted in a country where democracy is yet in its infancy its very birth is an outcome of political expediency as in Sri Lanka. It is not because people wanted a Presidential form but because a particular person wanted to be omnipotent either for personal reasons or to mould the destiny of the nation according to his whims.

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In such cases the President, being well settled in his seat, gaining the confidence of the majority representing religious or ethnic chauvinism may run amok. As Jayavardene had the single programme of eliminating the ethnic minority or Tamil speaking people of Indian origin while a Khomeni may be bent upon liquidating all Sunnis and Ahmedias in Iran. This all is done even at the cost of national economy and feelings of the neighboring country.

If the President is a symbol of national aspirations (Sinhalese aspirations in Sri Lanka) he may be also a symbol of ethnic chauvinism and tyranny that gives rise to wars between neighbors. A Marcos may kill his opponent and do big frauds to defeat Mrs. Aquino after remaining President for 20 years.

In some other countries Presidential form has been forced upon the people after military take-up. It is not simply in Pakistan and Bangladesh but in a large number of backward countries in Asia and Latin America. Once a Military General comes to power he never leaves the reins of the government and remains President till he is replaced by another through violence. The Presidential form is very tortuous in countries where people are poor, illiterate and lack political consciousness. The President always turns dictator and the democracy is simply in name.

In India the cabinet form is well settled and is running smoothly. With 60% illiterate people and less than thirty per cent educated people, India may see a transformation into Dictatorship if a Presidential form is established. The vigilance through political consciousness and democratic institutions is absent.

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The poor, illiterate backward masses are like dumb driven cattle who just want to be ruled. If the President, who is the head of the land, air, navy forces in India, so wishes he would snatch all civil liberties and establish military regime—which once established becomes almost permanent. The President may go but the civilians do not come to power. India has already tasted the dishes of one person’s omnipotence for two and a half years during emergency from 1975 to 1977.

It is rather a relief in India that the prospects of a transformation to the Presidential form have diminished. The regional consciousness, as has been already manifested in North Eastern region, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Assam, may not be a healthy trend in the interests of national unity. But it is a great force in not allowing a change in the present cabinet form of political system. India requires more decentralization of political powers in the form of something like a modern form of Panchayat system and not a centralization in the form of Presidential regime.

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