Dynastic politics

Published August 2, 2016

THE ascent of Murad Ali Shah to the Sindh chief ministership, the deployment of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari as chief PPP campaigner in the recent AJK election and the prominent role of Maryam Nawaz Sharif as director of the PML-N’s media strategy all have one thing in common: none of the three would be where they currently are were it not for their last names, ie each is the product of a political dynasty.

While Chief Minister Shah has reasonable political and governance experience, his dynastic counterparts on the national stage have decidedly less so.

Indeed, the very fact that both Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Maryam Nawaz Sharif modified their names to reflect the famous dynasties they are part of is an indication of the meagre political experience they can credibly claim.

While political dynasties are an old and long accepted feature of Pakistani democracy, there is something quietly troubling about the rise of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

Contrast the fast-track rise of the Bhutto and Sharif scions with that of their parents.

Much before Benazir Bhutto became prime minister, she led a remarkable and brave campaign against the dictator Ziaul Haq and earned her right to lead the country.

Before Nawaz Sharif took to the political stage at the federal level, he was the chief minister of Punjab and before that the provincial finance minister.

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s political path has been brutally shaped by the assassination of his mother, but the rise of the PPP chairman has resembled less a modern-day political ascension and more the training of a king-in-waiting from ancient times.

Chairing party meetings and giving the occasional speech does not translate into adequate preparation for life on the political front lines.

The disastrous PPP campaign in AJK may have several reasons, but it also exposed the inexperience and odd politics of Mr Bhutto-Zardari. Similarly, until her recent turn as the architect of the government’s media strategy, all Maryam Nawaz had by way of experience was a short stint as chairperson of the Prime Minister’s Youth Programme, a scheme seemingly created by her father to give his daughter executive experience.

Disturbing as it may be that two potential future leaders of the country are being steered to the top without any meaningful political or governance experience, supporters of the PPP and PML-N will point to an obvious truth: Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Maryam Nawaz Sharif will likely never hold high public office unless the voter decides to elect them. In a narrow electoral sense that may be true, but can such blatant family-first politics truly deepen democracy in Pakistan?

At least Chief Minister Shah appears to understand the need to display competence and mastery of governance affairs and not harp on political lineage.

Perhaps Mr Bhutto-Zardari and Ms Sharif can help their own causes by appearing a little more humble in light of their vast inexperience.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2016

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