Since August 1947, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has experimented with different political systems of governance, including parliamentary democracy, presidential governance, and even military regimes which were in fact always a hybrid system with the same political elite in the power corridors. In February 1956, the Constituent Assembly decided that the country shall be a federal republic known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan with a parliamentary political system.
Ayub khan’s rule was the one that came pretty close to a One Party System as a result of his concept of Basic Democracies.
From August 1947 to date, Pakistan has had 30 prime ministers (from Liaquat Ali Khan to Imran Khan). There have been thirteen Presidents of Pakistan since the introduction of the post in 1956. Six presidents have been members of a political party and four were active party members of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP). The first president was a retired military officer; four others were incumbent military officers of which three gained power through successful military coups – Gen. Ayub Khan Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Ayub Khan remained in office for the longest period (approximately ten years and five months). While Ayub’s presidential rule is remembered with reverence by the public for his mega national development projects, the political elite that joined hands to ultimately topple him criticized him for his reforms that threatened their existence in the power circles.
Ayub khan’s rule was the one that came pretty close to a One Party System as a result of his concept of Basic Democracies. During his time, the National Assembly, consisting of 156 members (including six women) and elected by an electoral college of 80,000 Basic Democrats, was established as the federal legislature. Legislative powers were divided between the National Assembly and provincial legislative assemblies. The National Assembly used to hold sessions alternatively in Islamabad and Dhaka; the Supreme Court would also hold sessions in Dhaka.
The ban on political parties was operational at the time of the first elections to the National Assembly and provincial legislative assemblies in January 1960, as was the prohibition on “EBDOed” politicians. Many of those elected were new and merged into factions formed on the basis of personal or provincial loyalties. Despite the ban, political parties functioned outside the legislative bodies as vehicles of criticism and as opinion formers. In late 1962, political parties were again legalized and factions crystallized into government and opposition groups. Ayub Khan combined fragments of the old Muslim League and created the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) as the official government party.
The presidential election of January 1965 resulted in a victory for Ayub Khan but also demonstrated the appeal of the Opposition. Four political parties joined to form the Combined Opposition Parties (COP). These parties were the Council Muslim League, strongest in Punjab and Karachi; the Awami League, strongest in East Pakistan, the National Awami Party, strongest in the North-West Frontier Province, where it stood for dissolving the One Unit Plan and the Jamaat-i-Islami, surprisingly supporting the candidacy of a woman. The COP nominated Fatima Jinnah (sister of the Quaid-i-Azam), as their presidential candidate.
The nine-point programme put forward by the COP emphasized the restoration of parliamentary democracy. Ayub Khan won 63.3 percent of the Electoral College vote. His majority was larger in West Pakistan (73.6 percent) than in former East Pakistan (53.1 percent). On the foreign policy front, deep friendship with China, neutrality by the USSR and business-like friendship with the USA ultimately resulted in the book ‘Friends not Masters’ by Ayub Khan that stands vindicated even today with Pakistan somewhat in a similar environment.
A ‘One-party system’ often arises from decolonization because a single party gains an overwhelmingly dominant role in liberation or in independence struggles; e.g. Pakistan Muslim League led by founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who didn’t survive long enough to consolidate and mature the political system in the newly independent Pakistan. The consequent polarisation in the political domain was largely due to cunningly choreographed incorporation of the filthy rich elite that had served the colonial masters for gaining rewards like titles, foreign education/settlements, great land chunks, high wired connections and unlimited wealth and subsequent share in the governments to come in the newly liberated states.
Politics in Pakistan got muddy and was further complicated by insertion of religious, ethnic, sectarian, sub-nationalist and sectarian elements/parties, all without any criterion like higher education, clean character/conduct sheet, and competitive examination for entry into politics. The only driver for quick entry and rise in the political arena was abundance of ill-gotten wealth and right or wrong connections with the civil-military bureaucracy. The plunder of national wealth and wasteful expenditure on self-comfort, enjoyment of condemnable perks and privileges on public funds and multiplication of personal-wealth through corrupt practices with no fear of law by almost every politician barring single digit exceptions has been the main reason for the failure of almost all political systems tried so far in Pakistan. Ironically, the corrupt ruling elite enjoying the bounties of freedom had no positive role in attaining it or subsequently defending it. Amost all function as cults and mafias without adherence to any decent political or democratic norms even within their parties despite unashamedly self-serving use of the word democracy.
Paradoxically, while the same democratic system is serving the former colonial countries so well due to mature political leaders as well as aware and educated masses, the same system has been deceitfully corrupted by the ruling elite in Pakistan and has only helped them and their partners in crimes to become richer and stronger by keeping the masses generally ignorant, uneducated, deprived and continually coerced.
One is compelled to conclude that having tried most political systems, Pakistan cannot afford to repeat the same experiments again and again and expect different results until it focuses on removing the bugs that failed Ayub Khan’s visionary endeavour of putting the country on the path of progress. Without upsetting the apple cart, Pakistan must follow both a long-term and a short-term approach to run the country’s political system with ‘two main political parties’ resembling the USA (Democrat and Republican), while still following the parliamentary system under stricter checks and balances and much higher criteria for politicians. It is a foregone conclusion that a semi-literate and corruption-fed human resource can make any system of governance fail miserably. As a long term approach, iy is necessary to groom institutions as Germany and Japan did after their complete devastation in the Second World War.
In the short-term, under the chairmanship of the prime minister, a strong constitutional reform institution, including heads of all political parties, members of National Security Committee/ Council and technocrats should have closed door discussions to form two major political parties (by voluntary merger or banning the unwilling others) and undertake due legislation for laying down criteria for participation in national politics. The minimum qualification for provincial and national assembly members should be a Master’s degree from a HEC recognized university, minimum age 30 years, minimum five years’ experience in local/ basic politics, clean character certification from police and national intelligence services, no dual nationality, clearance of a competitive examination akin to CSS and ISSB, perfect medical fitness certification, 6 to 9 months grooming in the National Defence University and 3 to 6 months physical service with troops deployed in the operational areas on the Eastern and Western borders.
Since such a proposal is bound to disqualify the majority of the so-called politicians-cum-plunderers and blackmailing smaller parties/ characters, an enormous uproar and political mayhem with external hands will immediately emerge to exploit the situation and this is unavoidable. For realisation of this obviously challenging national cleansing plan, which is bound to be opposed vehemently by the vultures in the political arena, the Pakistan Armed Forces will have to play their due role.
If Pakistan has to rise, it neede to commence the process forthwith so that it is assured a better governance system and has efficient politicians. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision of change can be accomplished by undertaking a gigantic step forward where angels fear to tread. Being a bold sportsman, one hopes he would play it on the front foot.
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