In defence of nepotism

Nepotism is very unappealing but some groups will only be able to be represented because of their family name.

Nadir Hassan December 27, 2012
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad. He has previously worked at The Express Tribune and Newsline

By the time this column is published, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari will have, for what seems like the umpteenth time, launched his political career at the fifth death anniversary of his mother’s assassination. If his previous attempts at public speaking are anything to go by, he will let you at a fake shriek or two, pause at odd moments and declaim in a language that still seems foreign to him. He will be denounced as a third-generation pretender who only illustrates that heirs are the obvious inferiors to their talented forefathers. Using the sole example to prove a rule is never wise and, in the case of political dynasties, may actually be verifiably untrue.

Let’s start with a disclaimer: it is obviously true that in a true meritocracy, a person’s last name should hold no bearing on his or her qualification for office. We want everyone to aspire to represent this country in the corridors of power and having a handful of families dominate our politics is not an ideal.

As always, there is a ‘but’. Nepotism is very unappealing in both theory and practice but barriers to entry in politics are so high that there are some groups who will only be represented because of their family name. This has been the case with women, who tend only to get elected on general seats because of their ancestry or marriage. Here is a seeming contradiction. We should be a country where women have an equal opportunity to participate in politics but those who do get in only through decidedly non-feminist means. This can only be reconciled by seeing their nepotistic political career as a transitionary phase, where these women legislators use their family connections to craft laws that improve the lot of women as a whole in the country and possibly pave the way to their eventual political participation.

In a true

This is exactly what has happened in the current parliament, where women chosen on reserved seats who are in many cases the beneficiaries of nepotism, have been among the most outspoken and active legislators. In terms of bills proposed and questions asked, women parliamentarians have been the face of our democracy. At a time when the very idea of reserved seats is under attack, it is important to acknowledge not just the value of the seats themselves, but also of the products of political dynasties who fill these seats.

Then there is the unfortunate reality that our political parties have simply not had the time and space to grow. Frequent bouts of military rule, with its focus on depoliticisation, have simply not allowed for politicians to emerge who are both in touch with the grass roots and have the relationship with capital and patronage that is an unfortunate necessity to get elected. That void has been filled by those with family connections.

Of course, one has to acknowledge that these sons and daughters of privilege frequently abuse their power, have no taste for democratic accountability and often put their interests above those of their country. But this has been true of all our politicians, no matter who they descended from. It just seems more gauche when done by someone from a politically prominent family.

As we strive for a more perfect democracy, nepotism will have to be accepted, even if done so grudgingly. The alternative would be the kind of soulless technocrats so beloved by the military and bureaucrat class. Eventually, in a generation or two of uninterrupted democratic rule, a new cadre of politicians should have been created who are beholden to party and country, not family.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2012.


Lala Gee | 10 years ago | Reply

@mansoor hussain:

"As a physician I know that the profession runs in families and that the sons or daughters are often as good as their parents when it comes to the practice of medicine."

I would like to know which Hospitals and Universities in USA, or elsewhere, directly appoints the offspring of a professor or a dean as professor or dean because they are, or would be, as capable as their parents.

Ali S | 10 years ago | Reply


Jinnah's mother tongue was Gujurati, not Urdu, he introduced Urdu as the national language because most upper-class Muslims in India at the time spoke that.

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