Change of guard? Not really

By choosing to stick to the old guard, the party has shown some of its inherent weaknesses as well

Editorial February 28, 2018

Finding a replacement for Nawaz Sharif after the Supreme Court declared him ineligible to hold the post of party president has been a dominant theme of the country’s political discourse. So by the time the party’s central working committee named Shehbaz Sharif as acting president the fissures within the PML-N had apparently been swept under the rug again. For now it will probably appease key figures such as Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and other dissident leaders who have contemplated leaving the party on more than one occasion — given their staunch opposition to Nawaz’s preferred political heir, Maryam Nawaz-Safdar.

The decision to nominate the ousted prime minister as quaid (or president) for life and appoint Shehbaz as acting party chief is as much an election jockeying stunt as it is a move to prevent factions from developing within the party. For the last three decades, the mantle of PML-N leadership has never quite changed hands except between 2002 and 2008 when the former prime minister’s younger brother Shehbaz held the PML-N reins. There are however limitations that have been imposed indirectly as a result. By choosing to stick to the old guard, the party has shown some of its inherent weaknesses as well. If the PML-N seems enamoured with its jaded and ageing leadership, it has shown its continued faith in time-worn and time-tested politicians. By extension it has also exposed its lack of trust in more youthful and newer political faces.

Between now and a week or two, the fate of the corruption references against Nawaz is likely to be decided. And if the verdict is against the former prime minister, the PML-N would have lost an opportunity to test another party stalwart in a key position.

Dynastic politics has many pitfalls: it gives rise to the politics of patronage which entails the inefficient use of state resources and locks out capable non-dynasts from participating effectively in the democratic process. This in turn leaves voters with a limited choice and reduces their ability to topple dynasties that fail to deliver. That is our dilemma.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2018.

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