LAHORE - Smaller provinces often complain that it is Punjab which is ruling the country. They also hold the country’s most populous province responsible for the backwardness of other federating units.

While the first part of the complaint is absolutely right, the second is debatable.

As a matter of fact, it is the Constitution which enables Punjab to remain in the driving seat, and the situation will remain unchanged unless the parliamentarians amend the basic law to set the situation right in the larger interest of the country.

Under the Constitution, the National Assembly has a total of 342 seats. Of them, Punjab has 148 general seats and 35 for women; Sindh has 61 general and 14 women seats; KP 35 and 8; Balochistan 14 and three; Fata 12; and Islamabad two seats. (Ten seats are for non-Muslims).

An MNA enjoying a support of another 170 colleagues (i.e. a total of 171 MNAs) qualifies to become the prime minister. And since Punjab alone has a total of 183 seats (general plus women’s), a party capable of keeping this province with it can come to power for as many terms as it retains the support of this province. It will need support from other parties only to the extent it is short of simple majority needed to form government.

In other words, a party enjoying full support of Punjab can afford to ignore other provinces, without being held responsible for violating any provision of the Constitution. And this is the root cause of Punjab’s dominance and other provinces’ inability to win the seat of the prime minister without having support from this province. (The PPP remained in power during 2008-13 because of the support it got from other parties, as a result of which it cobbled together the required majority. The party leadership chose both prime ministers, who shared the term, from Punjab because anyone from its power base, Sindh, could emerge as a parallel power, a situation unacceptable to Mr Zardari and his family).

In the 2013 elections, the PML-N got 120 NA general and 32 women’s seats from Punjab. Eleven independents also joined the party, raising its strength to 163 from this single province, just eight short of simple majority. (It got three seats from Sindh, five from Balochistan and seven from KP which shows that the party performed very badly outside Punjab).

This should amply explain that after getting overwhelming support from Punjab, the PML-N doesn’t need support from other provinces, or even parties. The party has made the JUI-F, PkMAP and PML-F part of coalition only to strengthen its position further.

Thanks to the 18th constitutional amendment enacted by our visionary parliamentarians, the ban on an individual becoming prime minister and chief minister for more than two terms was removed because of which the PML-N leadership can retain power for as long as it enjoys Punjab’s support. And since in the judgment of the PML-N leadership nobody in a population of some 200 million is capable enough to run the country, the status quo will continue in the foreseeable future, barring some unforeseen development.

What is more ironical is the fact that there is no move on the part of the parliamentarians to do something to give smaller provinces a greater say in governance – equal to that of Punjab.

True, a man having simple majority in the lower house of parliament can become prime minister, but in the given situation he cannot claim to be representative of the federation. The federation’s prime minister will be one who has considerable support from all provinces.

To bring smaller on a par with Punjab, there is a need for dividing this province into three units: South Punjab, Central Punjab and Northern Punjab, each unit having the number of seats close to representation of other provinces.

Some political parties had agreed to the division of Punjab a few years ago and had also got passed resolutions from the assemblies, which was a constitutional requirement, no practical steps were taken subsequently to take the matter to its logical conclusion. The other way is making it mandatory for a prime ministerial candidate to get certain percentage of NA seats from all provinces.

This means that even if a leader from Punjab gets simple majority on the basis of his number of seats in the biggest province alone, he should be required to have reasonable support from other federating units as well. And in case his party doesn’t have the required representation there, it should seek support from parties in those federating units.

This, perhaps, is the easiest way of giving smaller provinces greater say in national affairs and promoting national cohesion. Otherwise, those working for the presidential system may try to exploit the situation.

Needless to point out that a former chief justice of Pakistan has started working for replacing the parliamentary system with presidential, arguing that the former serves only the interests of the elite alone and has failed to help the common man.

While there is consensus among parties of all shades of opinion that parliamentary system suits Pakistan best and is also in accordance with the ideals of the Quaid-i-Azam, the campaign in favour of the presidential system can be effectively blunted by addressing the flaws of the system in practice.