The proposition under discussion in this short piece is to analyse whether or not ‘A one-party state or a single-party system’ is suitable for Pakistan with reference to the spectacular rise of China, which is mainly attributed to its one-party rule.
Let’s first examine a few essential details about ‘One Party System’ along with a brief hint at its bright and dark side. A one party state or a single party system is a type of unitary state in which only one political party has the right to form the government, usually based on the existing constitution. All other parties are either outlawed or allowed to take only a limited and controlled participation in elections. The rule of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) in the Ottoman Empire following the 1913 Ottoman coup d'état is considered the first ‘one-party state’.
One-party states explain themselves through various methods. Most often, proponents of a one-party state argue that the existence of separate parties runs counter to national unity. Others argue that one party is the forerunner of the people, and therefore its right to rule cannot be legitimately questioned. For example, the former Soviet government argued that multiple parties represented the class struggle and because of this the Soviet Union legally authorized and recognized a single party leading the proletariat, namely the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Some one-party states only outlaw opposition parties, while allowing allied parties to exist as part of a permanent coalition such as a popular front. Examples of this are the People's Republic of China under the United Front and the Democratic Front for the Reunification of Korea in North Korea. Most one-party states have been ruled by parties forming in one of the following three circumstances: One, an ideology of Marxism–Leninism and international solidarity (such as the Soviet Union for most of its existence); Two, some type of nationalist or fascist ideology (such as the Kingdom of Italy under the National Fascist Party or Germany under the Nazi Party); Three, parties that came to power in the wake of independence from colonial rule.
As of 2021 the following seven countries are legally constituted as one-party states: most notably China (under Xi Jinping, General Secretary of Communist Party of China) following an ideology of Socialism with Chinese characteristics for almost last 72 years; besides six more countries in comparatively less enviable conditions like Cuba, Eritrea, Laos, North Korea, Sahrawi (Western Sahara) and Vietnam. It may lead one to a quick conclusion that China is the only country which can be cited as a success story capitalizing on ‘One Party System’. A closer and detailed study of the other six countries that are still following the same ‘One Party System’ but unable to achieve progress akin to China may be attributable to some of the factors like different history, geography, culture, internal challenges and external threats being confronted, missing or misuse of gift of natural resources, rampant corruption and greedy political elite, inability to improve the indigenous and imported human resource, failure to take advantage of industrialization and sophisticated technologies, and the greatest blessing of all i.e. a sincere, visionary and dynamic leadership….all sound familiar and applicable to Pakistan in all types of governments we have had, nevertheless.
It may also be of great relevance and interest to note that there are more than 130 countries which had tried ‘One Party System’ but eventually abandoned it for multiple reasons; some of the prominent states include former Ottoman Empire, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Libya, Democratic Republic of Sudan, United Arab Republic, Azerbaijan, East Germany, Poland, Yemen, former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Brazilian military regime, Kingdom of Spain, and Iran with different stories of successes and failures before and after abandoning the ‘One Party System’ and ideology that led to it.
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 Islamic Republic of Pakistan with a parliamentary political system. Since August 1947 till date, Pakistan has had 30 prime ministers (from Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan to Mr. 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 of them 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 in Pakistan's history – Ayub Khan (27 October 1958 to 31 March 1969, left ZA Bhutto and PPP as a legacy), Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (16 September 1978 to 17 August 1988, left Nawaz Sharif and PML(N) as his legacy) and Pervez Musharraf (20 June 2001 to 18 August 2008,left behind PML(Q) and MQM). Field Marshal Ayub Khan, during his two terms, remained in the office for the longest period with 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 criticizes him for his reforms that threatened their existence in the power circles.
It is my impression that Ayub khan rule was the one that came pretty close to 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 was 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 opinion former. 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 and known as Madar-i-Millet, the Mother of the Nation) their presidential candidate. The nine-point program 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 USSR/ Russia and business like friendship with USA that ultimately resulted in ‘Friends not Masters’ by Ayub that stands vindicated even today with Pakistan somewhat in a similar environment.
As stated earlier, ‘One-party system’ often arises from decolonization because a single party gains an overwhelmingly dominant role in the 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 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. The politics in Pakistan got muddy and 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 has remained an abundance of ill gotten wealth and right or wrong connections with civil-military bureaucracy. The plunder of national wealth and wasteful expenditure on self comfort, enjoyment of condemn-able perks and privileges on public funds and multiplication of self 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 throughout enjoying the bounties of freedom had no positive role in attaining it or subsequently defending it. Needless to say that almost all of them function as cults and mafias without adherence to any decent political or democratic norms even within their parties despite unashamedly self-serving use of 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 educated masses being led, the same system has been so deceitfully corrupted by the ruling elite in Pakistan that it 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.
Above discussion in view, I am compelled to conclude that having tried all possible political systems globally in vogue but in vain for Pakistan, we cannot afford to repeat the same experiments again and again and expect different results until and unless we focus on removing the bugs that failed Ayub Khan’s visionary endeavour on putting the country on the path of progress. In my view, without upsetting the apple cart, we have to follow a long term and a short term approach to run our political system with ‘two main political parties’ resembling the one in USA (Democrats and Republican), while still following the parliamentary system under stricter checks and balance and much higher criterion for becoming a politician. It is a foregone conclusion that the semi-literate and corruption fed human resource can make any system of governance miserably fail as experienced time and again. Therefore, as a long term approach, we have to groom the institutions of our mothers and teachers with higher social and government status, who would give us much improved generations in 20 to 30 years and so on; as experienced in Germany and Japan after complete devastation in the Second World War. Meanwhile in short term, under the chairmanship of the prime minister a strong constitutional reform committee including heads of all political parties, members of National Security Committee/ Council and required technocrats should have closed door discussions to form two major political parties (by voluntary merger or banning unwilling others) and undertake due legislation for laying down criterion 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 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 majority of the so called politicians cum plunderers and ever blackmailing smaller parties/ characters, an enormous uproar and political mayhem with external hands immediately coming in to exploit 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, Pakistan Armed Forces will have to play due role in keeping it a controlled affair short of Ayub khan like takeover. If Pakistan has to rise among the comity of nations, we need to commence the process forthwith so that the next general elections assure Pakistan a better governance system and real Pakistan loving efficient politicians. Prime Minister Imran khan’s vision of change can be accomplished by undertaking this gigantic step forward where angels fear to tread otherwise. Being a bold sportsman, I hope he would play it on the front foot being mindful of getting stumped or caught in the slip.
11 October 2021