Dynastic politics in Pakistan

According to a report, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif – son of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif – will become the next provincial general secretary of the PML-N. Hamza’s uncle, PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif, wants him to don this mantle as he is supposed to be the future of the party. Most political parties in Pakistan hold sham elections when it comes to inner-party democracy. The PPP, PML-Q, ANP and PML-N are all examples of dynastic leadership. The PML-Q is run by the Chaudhry brothers; the PPP was led by the Bhuttos and now Bhutto-Zardaris; the ANP is run by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s family while the PML-N is dominated by the Sharif family. It is ironic that all these political parties that never tire of reminding us of their belief in democracy deny the possibility of any inner-party democracy. Dynastic politics does not let the best talent from political parties come forward and claim what can be theirs on merit. It implies that our politicians have made their parties personal fiefdoms by passing on party leadership as an inheritance to their successors.

Dynastic politics, though seen to be relatively unstable, is not without precedent in the subcontinent. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty of India, Zia and Mujib families of Bangladesh and the Bandaranaike family of Sri Lanka have all been extremely popular despite practising this brand of politics. Somehow the people of South Asia have an affinity for dynasties but what most people fail to realise is that this is as bad as a monarchy or dictatorship. It is unfortunate that while parties like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) do not follow dynastic rule, our largest mainstream political parties are unable to wean themselves away from it. The MQM started off as an ethnic party but now claims to be a national party. The JI is a religious political party. Both of them do not represent democratic credentials in their truest form. As for Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), it is a one-man show and Mr Khan is an autocrat when it comes to his party. The PML-Q and the ANP have their own importance and vote bank, but the PPP and the PML-N are the two mainstream national political parties and vital for democracy to flourish in Pakistan.

When it comes to the PPP, the Bhutto legacy had its roots in the fact that the cadres of the PPP had an affinity for the Bhutto family’s charisma because Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at a critical moment in our history managed to sway such a great mass of people in his favour. Benazir Bhutto, even in her youth, had a deep understanding of the inner dynamics of the PPP and it was for this reason that she strove to secure for herself the position of PPP chief in spite of the presence of several older and mature politicians (referred to derisively as ‘the uncles’). After Ms Bhutto’s assassination in December 2007, President Asif Ali Zardari was made the party chairman and he in turn made Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari PPP’s co-chairman. As for the PML-N, the Sharif brothers are paranoid about their power base eroding and thus jealously guard their position as party leaders. Many individuals in their party have been sidelined when they became more popular than the Sharifs.

It is quite amazing that in a democratic dispensation, there is no democracy within most political parties, which is a contradiction in terms. For good leadership to emerge in Pakistan, we need to do away with political fiefdoms and dynastic politics.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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