Emergency Powers: The Impact of Emergency Measures on Democracy

We previously discussed the history of the US President’s emergency powers and how they have become a staple of his power and influence. Here we will look into the effects of that power and some of the discourse around it.

Post 9/11 America

After September 11th, 2001, the US’s use of emergency powers to pursue national interests was ramped up tenfold. As already mentioned, emergency powers overstep the limitations set by the Constitution but do not directly break its rules. However, after 9/11, this may have changed, even though the courts are not accepting it. People are discriminated against based on their religion, race, or country of origin; citizens are arrested and tortured in remote locations without a proper investigation or a fair trial; extraordinary surveillance methods are being used; discriminatory checks at airports. Many of these practices would not survive judicial review, but the doctrine of necessity has kept these powers going strong.

The Perils of Presidentialism

Some legal experts, chief among them being the late Yale professor Juan Lintz, have advocated for the Parliamentary system of government, mentioning the failures of the Presidential system. Lintz was particularly concerned about the threat of dictatorship. The President tends to have a great deal of power. The doctrine of separation of powers is implemented to control this and the other two branches of government (The legislature and the Judiciary). This allows the powers to be divided amongst the three branches so that none of them would have a concentration of power, leading to tyrannical effects. Furthermore, it would also allow these branches to keep checks and balances on one another to prevent the same threat.

The issue with these emergency powers in their current state is that they are not so easily checked by either Congress or the Judiciary. The President is essentially an authoritarian leader at the moment, and for the most part, public disapproval is the only thing keeping a limit on these powers. A case can also be made for the fact that despite the extreme polarization in American politics, it is very difficult for people to agree on things, but one thing that they all do agree on is that America must always come first. To ensure that American interests are met internationally, they would not bat an eye at going as far as possible, no matter what consequences that might bring for the rest of the world.

Among these powers of emergency, the world has become most intimately acquainted with the President’s power to control the military. The President can send troops to foreign lands to fulfill functions of his choice, but he cannot declare war as that power resides with Congress. But, every “dispute” that the US has been a part of since the 2nd World War has been just that—a dispute. Congress must review and accept the President’s power to deploy troops, and if they vote on it, they can order the troops to return to the US. However, this has not happened once in the US’s history.

The Pakistani Context

These emergency powers are present with Pakistan’s President as well. However, very rarely have these powers been used by a civilian President. Emergencies in Pakistan have mostly had to do with the government’s need to maintain power. These emergencies have, for the most part, been used against the country’s own people rather than external threats. The difference here is that while in the US, at least in the beginning, the Judiciary kept a very strict check on these powers, and even now, in the exercise of these emergency powers, the President’s office has to be very careful not to allow the Judiciary to find any weaknesses. Here, though, the quality of our Judicial institutions is not nearly as high as that of the US, and thus, it cannot be trusted with keeping an effective enough check on the President.

Moreover, continuing the theme of comparing governmental systems, here the Parliamentary system is established, but it would be a huge mistake to think that Juan Lintz would ever use our government as an example of the superiority of Parliamentarism over Presidentialism. Lintz’s fears about the presidential system can be seen very obviously coming to life in our system. A power-hungry President might become tyrannical? We don’t have a proper representative system, and the parties gain and lose all popularity based solely on their leader, who is destined to be the Prime Minister. Impeachment might lead to riots and instability? The same can be said for the no-confidence vote against Imran Khan.

What Does This Tell Us?

It seems that the world is heading towards a far more extreme state in the times we may call “normal” than ever before. Racism, political polarisation, military disputes, international tensions, power struggles, and discrimination are at an all-time high. Everywhere we look, there is some kind of power imbalance; where such an imbalance exists, there is bound to be an oppressor. The world is becoming a bleaker place. The likelihood of a situation like the time of the World Wars is going from being nothing but a joke or a sensationalist claim to actual reality. The US’s inclination towards controlling and oppressing the rest of the world just to maintain its sense of superiority should never have been its policy, to begin with, rather policies of love and peace would have brought the whole of the world together had they come from a source quite so powerful. I am under no illusion to the fact that what I am about to say is the equivalent of expecting unicorns and fairies to suddenly populate the earth, but is it really so utterly naive and childish to hope that we may—as a species—spend a day without collectively holding a knife to each other’s throats?

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