Game of thrones in Pak­istan’s dy­nas­tic pol­i­tics

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - — AFP

Pak­istan’s ousted prime min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif has passed the lead­er­ship ba­ton to his brother, en­sur­ing the con­tin­u­a­tion of a dy­nas­tic po­lit­i­cal sys­tem in a coun­try where gov­ern­ment has long been run as a fam­ily en­ter­prise. In Pak­istan’s strat­i­fied, semifeu­dal so­ci­ety, pa­tron­age and kin­ship play a huge role in pol­i­tics, of­ten dom­i­nat­ing ide­ol­ogy. Some an­a­lyst es­ti­mates say that more than half of seats - at both na­tional and pro­vin­cial level - have been passed from father to son, brother to brother, keep­ing the busi­ness of pol­i­tics firmly within the fam­ily.

Sharif named his younger brother Shah­baz as his suc­ces­sor to the coun­try’s top of­fice in a de­fi­ant speech the day af­ter he was dis­qual­i­fied by the Supreme Court on cor­rup­tion charges. The move main­tains the epony­mous Pak­istan Mus­lim LeagueNawaz (PML-N) party’s hold on power, with Nawaz con­tin­u­ing to act as pup­pet mas­ter from his po­si­tion as head of the party. “The sub­text in all this is that Nawaz Sharif will still have an in­flu­ence in how things are car­ried out un­til the next elec­tion and per­haps through the next elec­tion,” said po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Umair Javad. “This was his (Nawaz’s) way of con­vinc­ing the party that this brand still ex­ists.”

Shah­baz - cur­rently chief min­is­ter of Pun­jab prov­ince, the fam­ily’s power base - is ex­pected to slide into his brother’s va­cated Na­tional Assem­bly seat be­fore be­ing rub­ber­stamped as prime min­is­ter in a par­lia­men­tary vote. Mean­while lo­cal me­dia has re­ported that Shah­baz is lin­ing up his son Hamza to take his po­si­tion as Pun­jab chief min­is­ter, though he too must first be elected to his father’s pro­vin­cial assem­bly seat in a by-elec­tion.

“It’s the con­fi­dence of a po­lit­i­cal dy­nasty in its power that’s al­low­ing it to make all th­ese moves,” said Badar Alam, edi­tor of the Her­ald mag­a­zine. “They feel that in cer­tain parts of the coun­try their dy­nas­tic hold is so strong that no chal­lenge can up­root them.” But some warn that the PML-N will not rally be­hind Shah­baz - con­sid­ered less charis­matic than his older brother - in the same way that it did Nawaz, pos­si­bly frac­tur­ing the party. “Nawaz has per­sonal po­lit­i­cal ap­peal in a way that his brother doesn’t. I think that the dy­nasty will fray un­der his brother,” said jour­nal­ist and com­men­ta­tor Omar Waraich. Another power dy­nasty, the Bhutto fam­ily and its Pak­istan Peo­ple’s Party (PPP) lost its foot­ing af­ter the 2007 death of its leader, the coun­try’s first fe­male prime min­is­ter Be­nazir Bhutto. Founded by her father Zul­fikar Ali Bhutto, the PPP was once a for­mi­da­ble po­lit­i­cal force, dom­i­nat­ing Pak­istani pol­i­tics for nearly four decades. But since Be­nazir’s as­sas­si­na­tion and de­spite be­ing nom­i­nally led by her son Bi­lawal, the PPP has be­come a shadow of its for­mer self, and lost 76 seats in the last gen­eral elec­tion in 2013.

“The lead­ers have a much stronger brand than the par­ties. Be­nazir was al­ways a much stronger brand than the Pak­istan Peo­ple’s Party. Nawaz Sharif is a much stronger brand than what the PML-N will be with­out him,” said Waraich. Sim­i­larly the coun­try’s main op­po­si­tion party, Pak­istan Tehreek-e-In­saf, which paints it­self as a grass­roots move­ment, is ul­ti­mately cen­tred around the per­son­al­ity of its leader, crick­eter-turned-politi­cian Im­ran Khan. “One of the ap­peals of Im­ran Khan is that he breaks this dy­nas­tic hold. But he only does it through the form of a per­son­al­ity cult,” said Waraich.

Khan has lead the PTI since its in­cep­tion over two decades ago, seek­ing to gal­va­nize the youth vote and the ur­ban mid­dle class with a prom­ise to root out cor­rup­tion. But ob­servers say he has still failed to turn PTI into a truly na­tional party - and chal­lenger to the PMLN dom­i­nance. Khan held a rally at­tended by thou­sands of danc­ing, cel­e­brat­ing sup­port­ers late Sun­day in which he crit­i­cized the dy­nas­tic na­ture of the Sharif trans­fer of power. “Is there no one else in your (Sharif’s) party to make prime min­is­ter?” he asked the fes­tive crowd. “It’s not democ­racy, it’s a king­dom.”

The out­go­ing Sharif now has to face down cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions that have swept up three of his chil­dren, in­clud­ing his daugh­ter Maryam Nawaz who had long been touted as his pre­sump­tive po­lit­i­cal heir. The fam­ily will likely be in and out of court for the next six months as in­ves­ti­ga­tors pick over ev­ery de­tail of their lux­ury life­style and ex­ten­sive wealth. “It is a se­ri­ous blow to dy­nas­tic pol­i­tics that has been the big­gest im­ped­i­ment to the devel­op­ment of demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and values in the coun­try,” said po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor Zahid Hus­sain in a re­cent col­umn for the lead­ing English-lan­guage daily Dawn, re­fer­ring to the Supreme Court judge­ment that ousted Sharif.

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