This article analyzes and critiques, the Basic Democracies System 1959, the local government system introduced by the military ruler, General Ayub Khan in Pakistan. The article also gives a link to PowerPoint presentation slides at its end with the aim to provide extra support.
Structure of the Basic Democracies System 1959
Basic Democracies 1959 was a four-tiered Local Government System introduced by Ayub Khan in 1959. The four tiers included Union Council, Tehsil Council, District Council, and Divisional Council.
The Union Council (UC)
UC was the basic and lowest tier of the system. On average there were 15 union councilors representing different villages in each union council. Along with these public representatives, there was an equal number of officials in each union council. The head of the council was Tehsildar.
Like the Union Council, Tehsil Council also had an equal number of officials and non-official members. Official members included officials of the Tehsil administration whereas non-officials included chairmen of all UCs within the Tehsil. Deputy Commissioner headed the council.
District Council also contained an equal number of official and non-official members. Official members included officials of the district administration whereas non-officials included chairmen of all Tehsil Councils within the district. Deputy Commissioner headed the council.
Divisional Commissioner headed the Divisional Council. Like all other lower tiers, Divisional Council too contained an equal number of official and non-official members. The official members at the Divisional level acted as official members whereas the chairmen of Tehsil Councils were the non-official members.
Critique of Basic Democracies System 1959
The following lines provide a balanced critique of the Basic Democracies System 1959 in terms of its advantages and disadvantages and impact on society.
Merits of the Basic Democracies System
1. First ever reforms at the local level
The introduction of the Basic Democracies System was the first attempt to reform local administration after independence. Previous governments did not pay any attention to this direction. They had even failed in making a federal government through a proper political process as per its definition in the law.
2. Public Involvement in politics
Before independence people never played their role in the election of their representatives. With the introduction of the Basic Democracies System, Ayub Khan provided an opportunity for the people to choose their representatives thus contributing to a political change process at the local level.
3. Undertaking of developmental work
Powers were devolved down to the village level to plan and execute developmental work thus practically impacting the lives of the people.
Demerits of the Basic Democracies System 1959
1. The system was bureaucratic in nature
The Basic Democracies system1959 was aimed at devolving power to locally elected public representatives called Basic Democrats but they did not enjoy real decision-making powers.
The government officials i.e. Tehsildar, Assistant Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, and Divisional Commissioner acted as heads of Union, Tehsil, District, and Divisional Councils respectively. As heads, they enjoyed decision-making power at their respective tiers and could even suspend the basic membership of elected representatives of the council.
2. Democrats acted as rubber stamps in mega political matters
According to the 1962 Constitution, Basic Democrats would also act as an electoral college for presidential elections. In addition, they would elect the Provincial and National Assembly through indirect elections.
Given the control of basic democrats, the government and bureaucracy influenced them to lend support to any measure against their visions and wishes. This was how the government and bureaucracy used basic democrats to elect Ayub Khan as president.
Similarly, the military regime in order to ensure pro-Ayub provincial and national governments, used the Basic Democrats as they also formed the electoral college for the election of the central and provincial assemblies.
From the above critique, it can be concluded that:
- the Basic Democracies System had some advantages as it provided an opportunity for people to participate in a political process by choosing their representatives and see a great deal of developmental work at local levels;
- the system was not democratic in nature as bureaucracy enjoyed decision-making powers. The bureaucracy ignored the elected representatives which tantamount to the violation of the people’s mandate;
- the people of Pakistan had no practical role in the election of the president, provincial, and federal government.