Democratic dynasties

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One of the basic tenets of democracy is regular scrutiny by voters. It is an idea that is frowned upon by political parties in Pakistan.
One of the basic tenets of democracy is regular scrutiny by voters. It is an idea that is frowned upon by political parties in Pakistan.

ALMOST all major political parties of Pakistan have become fiefdoms of families that had founded them. Their control will remain with them even in the distant future as the ‘crown’ will automatically go to their ‘heirs’. Other lower-tier or provincial office-bearers are also favourites of these families since they always follow the dictation coming from above. In these parties, nobody dares question the logic behind a decision or policy as such courage is generally taken as insubordination and disobedience. These are “monarchies” in disguise of democratic parties. During the military takeovers, these parties have been part of the alliances aimed to restore what they call ‘democracy’.

A look at the political landscape will help us understand one of the key reasons why things are today what they are.

PML-N: It was launched by Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif in 1993 because of ‘ideological’ differences with Sindhi leader Muhammad Khan Junejo, a favourite of spiritual leader Pir Pagara. Junejo was picked as prime minister by then president and Chief Martial Law Administrator Gen Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq after the 1985 party-less elections. While Junejo tried to establish his identity as a politician, Sharif, who was also chief minister of Punjab, always worked as a humble servant of the military ruler.

After the 1985 elections, Gen Zia had allowed some parties to function. Junejo was the head of the party at the national level, while Sharif acted as its provincial chief. Since both the leaders had serious policy differences and had their own camp followers, Sharif decided to launch his own party before the 1993 elections. Since then, the party has been in control of the Sharifs.

When the going got tough, the party’s central working committee created a new office and elected Sharif as “Quaid” for life.

Political parties demand democracy but do not practise it themselves.

The former prime minister wants to see his daughter Maryam as the party boss and the chief executive of the country. To facilitate her political journey, she has been appointed as vice-president. Although she is supposed to work under her uncle Shehbaz, even senior party leaders have accepted her as the de-facto party chief.

Shehbaz Sharif is heading the party and is also the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. Since nobody else in the party can claim to be comparable to the Sharifs’ competence, Shehbaz’s son Hamza is provincial president as well as the leader of the opposition in the Punjab assembly.

Former prime minister’s Samdhi – Ishaq Dar – has been finance minister of the country for many years and has been facing court cases. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is trying to bring him back to Pakistan through Interpol, but so far there has been no progress on this front. There is no possibility of any non-Sharif heading the party even in the distant future.

PPP: Launched by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1967, the party was headed by the man till his execution in April 1979. When he was behind the bars because of his trial in a murder case, his wife Begum Nusrat Bhutto was leading the party. She was allowed to go abroad for her cancer treatment in 1982, and daughter Benazir Bhutto started acting as co-chairperson.

Benazir Bhutto also spent many years in London. On her return to Pakistan in April 1986, she became de jure co-chairperson. Her mother accepted a secondary role. After Benazir’s assassination on December 27, 2007, the crown of party chairmanship went to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. However, since he was still immature, Benazir’s husband Asif Ali Zardari led the party for some time.

Bilawal is now functioning as PPP chairman and even senior party leaders with decades of affiliation with the party have accepted him as their boss. The ‘democrats’ in the party don’t question the eligibility of the man for the top office.

In case of any change in the situation for whatever reasons, Asifa is being groomed as party chief. Bakhtawar, the other sister, is not playing any role in the party but the possibility of her taking up a key position cannot be ruled out in the future.

PTI: PTI emerged as an alternative to both the PML-N and the PPP in the 2018 elections. Founded by Imran Khan, the party begins and ends with him. He is different as no family connections can be associated with him, but, practically speaking, he remains a one-man show and party leaders are more than willing to stress the point.

JI: Jamaat-i-Islami is also a party not following dynastic politics, like PTI, but it has more structure in its ranks. After Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maudoodi, who had founded the party in 1941 and remained its head till 1972, it was headed by Mian Muhammad Tufail, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Syed Munawwar Hassan and now Senator Sirajul Haq.

Generally, a person once elected to the top office is re-elected till he expresses his inability to shoulder the responsibility any more. Dynasty is not a consideration. Syed Munawwar Hassan was replaced because, apparently, his thinking about the establishment was different from the party line.

JUI: In contrast to JI, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam is a religious party following dynastic practices. Maulana Mufti Mehmud assumed its leadership in 1962 and retained the seat till his death in the 1980s. After that, Maulana Hamid Mian led it for some time till Maulana Fazlur Rehman grew up and assumed the control. He is expected to retain the seat throughout his life. He faces no challenge when it comes to his leadership. He is flexible enough to work with parties of varying ideologies.

In case there is need for some change, son Asad Mehmud is there to succeed him. He has already been elected as a member of the National Assembly. The party has following in KP and Balochistan. However, it has no roots in Punjab and Sindh despite the fact that most Deobandis reside in these provinces. And the party, too, is not taking any measures to improve its position in these provinces.

PML-Q: PML-Q was created by Gen Pervez Musharraf after ousting the PML-N government in October 1999. Former governor Mian Muhammad Azhar was its first president. But since Gen Musharraf relied more on the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, he got elected Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain as its head.

This party was brought to power as a result of the 2002 elections. Since then the leadership – both national and Punjab’s — is with the Chaudhry brothers. They appoint or get elected other office-bearers of their own choice.

It was because of their links with the general that Chaudhry Shujaat became prime minister for about two months and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi remained chief minister of Punjab for a full five-year term.

After that ‘golden era’, the party’s support was restricted to a few districts of Punjab. However, when parties don’t have clear majority, they play an important role in completing numbers. It is for this reason that PML-Q is now a coalition partner with the PTI. Pervaiz Elahi’s son Moonis Elahi is being groomed for the future.

ANP & MQM-P: Awami National Party, limited to a few districts of KP, is being led by the family of the late Wali Khan. The leadership will remain with them even in the future. With the founder off the scene, the MQM has factions that are too many to keep an accurate count. It was a one-man show and with that man forced into wilderness, the party has leaders without followers, it seems.

The writer is an academic and a freelancer.