Return of Basic Democracy? Deep State Strikes Back!

The Pakistani Deep State has never been comfortable with democracy or with civilian politicians who it cannot manage or control. Pakistan’s First military dictator, General Ayub came up with the Basic Democracy system in which he tried to replace existing political parties and leaders with directly elected civilians who would be indebted to the military. This backfired as in elections people chose the popular civilian leaders, even when they were forced to run independently.

Decades later General Musharraf came up with another form of the basic democracy system in which nazims were directly elected. He too sought to create new political leaders – who would be establishment people and have little grassroots support. This did not work out either as the existing political parties in every province retained their support base.

Under Imran Khan once again the military is trying to create a new form of basic democracy. At a recent press conference Khan “spoke at length about the newly adopted local government system in Punjab, which aimed at “taking the government to the people” and announced a two-tiered election across Punjab. Giving details of the new Punjab Local Government Act 2019, Imran Khan said a direct election would be held in 22,000 village councils in Punjab, for equal distribution of revenue and indiscriminate development of the entire province. “People need governance,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said and added that the new concept was brought to the fore after lengthy deliberations and study of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa local government system and similar systems in vogue internationally.”

Further Khan said ““The city mayors will be directly elected and they will generate their own money. The tehseel nazim would also be directly elected,” he said, adding that the new local government system will produce new leadership. The Local Government Bill 2019 was approved by the Punjab Assembly on April 30 through a majority vote with the opposition boycotting the session. The mayor will choose his own cabinet, the PM said, saying the mayor of London is directly elected.”

Pakistan needs an overhaul of the existing system but using techniques that have failed in the past is not the way out. The way out is more democracy, more civilian control and less military interference.

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