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.
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.
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"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.
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.
not agreed to the idea, the cost of nepotism and perpetual leadership may result in elimination of this country. Unfortunately the idea of gradual change and evolutionary democracy is not fit for our situations. spoiling a system in the hope that the system will itself work as refinery is not logical.
You sound like a born slave -- all the time!
In US politcs the term used is 'name recognition'.
In India we already have a fourth generation Nehru getting ready to be the next prime minister.
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.
Totally ludicrous article. If one's father is a pilot but he or she does not know how to operate and fly the plane should that person be allowed to do so. Likewise if a leader's son,daughter or relative does not possess the leadership qualities he or she should not be accepted as a leader.But in our country Just the surname is enough. If people like you write and profess/float such flimsy ideas then there is really no hope for this country.I wish people do not get influenced by your follies.
@just_someone: I can appreciate what you have said. I may not have been clear. Mr. Jinnah knew as much about not just Urdu or any Pakistani regional language/culture and Islam as many British rulers did. BB was no better than Bilawal when her father was killed and she was forced to come into politics. In fact she was a student and rushed back to Pakistan. Yet both of these proved to be great leaders. Bilawal has more time and training than BB before he would take part in elections. He already has five years experience as the chairman of the largest political party in Pakistan's history. It is up to the voters to decide whether he is good enough to be elected in the NA let alone PM. This is what democracy is all about. Regards, M
Im sorry Nadir, this is pretty terrible article. Esp this logical assertion is just ridiculous: "The alternative would be the kind of soulless technocrats so beloved by the military and bureaucrat class." Who says the technocrats that can come in power are the ones the military likes? What is so bad with technocrats anyway. We need educated people running our important ministries. Look for example the finance ministry. I know first year economics PhD students who can run the country better than the current finance minister. I can go through the 40 or so ministries this government has created at different levels but my point is obvious. This hatred of technocrats because they only come in military regimes is just pointless. We can have educated people run the country under democratic regimes as well. India is an example of where, even though last names matter, the important ministries are handed to competent people, not people who are well connected. Please, write about something worthwhile and reasonable. Saying we should accept nepotism because its there and because the alternative is a bigger evil is just preposterous.
@Mirza: Please do some research before you make comments. Its not the Urdu that people criticize with Bilawal, its the fact that he has never lived in Pakistan. Bilawal has absolutely no clue about how the average Pakistani lives and what they do. He has no clue about our lives, our conversations and our problems. He is welcome to come to Pakistan but he is not welcome to take the keys to the destiny of millions of poor people. Jinnah might not have been very good in Urdu, but he spent a substantial amount of time, after birth, in British India. He had SOME understanding of Pakistanis. Bilawal has NONE.
Nepotism is only bad when politicans employ it. However, when used as a tool by anyone else, they do so because they think they somehow deserve such privileges.
Well at least dynastic politicians are elected by the people, unlike technocrats who are parachuted from the air by military dictators
So patronage politics is a necessary evil and the alternatives are 'soulless technocrats'...I love how intellectuals of this country cook up new ideas to perpetuate status quo...