Intra-party despo­tism

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Hus­sain H Zaidi

IN Pak­istan, for the most part, there is an in­verse re­la­tion­ship be­tween democ­racy in a political party and its pop­u­lar­ity, as mea­sured by its elec­toral suc­cess. This is the in­fer­ence that one can log­i­cally draw from a re­cent re­port by an Is­lam­abad-based NGO on the state of intra-party democ­racy.

The PML-N - the na­tion's most pop­u­lar political party on the ba­sis of the 2013 elec­tions - has been found to be the least demo­cratic. The PPP - the se­cond largest political party - has been ranked the fifth least demo­cratic out of the eight par­ties sur­veyed. The MQM - the fourth largest party - and the JUI-F, which has con­sid­er­able sup­port in Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochis­tan, are jointly at num- ber six. The PTI - the third largest political party - is the no­table ex­cep­tion to the rule, as it is ranked as the third most demo­cratic party. The Ja­maat-e-Is­lami, which has a mea­gre rep­re­sen­ta­tion in par­lia­ment, is the most demo­cratic.

In the West, be­fore the ad­vent of rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy in the 19th cen­tury, the political process was dom­i­nated by nar­rowly based cliques and fac­tions led by pow­er­ful princes, dukes and barons. When political par­ties ap­peared on the hori­zon, the same fac­tions took con­trol of them. But with the growth of busi­ness and in­dus­try, the no­bil­ity made way for the bour­geoisie - bankers, mer­chants and in­dus­tri­al­ists. How­ever, pol­i­tics re­tained its elit­ist char­ac­ter. It was only grad­u­ally that the political par­ties as­sumed a demo­cratic char­ac­ter, which the chang­ing na­tional cul­ture.

In less de­vel­oped re­gions with strong feu­dal or tribal tra­di­tions valu­ing per­sonal loy­alty (though they bor­rowed the Western con­sti­tu­tional model), pol­i­tics has re­mained a largely tribal or dy­nas­tic af­fair, con­trolled by charis­matic per­son­al­i­ties. Al­though feu­dal­ism is no longer the dom­i­nant mode of pro­duc­tion in Pak­istan, the feu­dal psy­che is still a pow­er­ful el­e­ment in the na­tional political cul­ture. Cen­tral to feu­dal­ism is the no­tion of the fief - a piece of land held by a lord or over­lord. In his fief­dom, the lord reigns supreme.

The sta­tus of a feu­dal or a ten­ant is an as­cribed rather than an ac­quired sta­tus. Log­i­cally, in a feu­dal so­ci­ety, lead­ers are born and not made, and lead­er­ship is re­garded as a gift of na­ture, not an out­come of nur­ture. Lead­ers are con­sid­ered to have some in­nate qual­i­ties of head that set them miles apart from or­di­nary peo­ple.

Z A Bhutto ruled the coun­try - first as pres­i­dent and civil­ian chief mar­tial law ad­min­is­tra­tor and then as premier. His daugh­ter Be­nazir Bhutto was elected prime min­is­ter twice and was all set for a third term when she was as­sas­si­nated. Af­ter her death, the party lead­er­ship passed on to her hus­band and her son.

Then there are the Shar­ifs of Raiwind, with a record of three terms as prime min­is­ter and two as chief min­is­ter; the Chaudhrys of Gu­jrat, with one term as prime min­is­ter, one as deputy prime min­is­ter and one as chief min­is­ter; the Khars of Muzaf­far­garh, with one term as for­eign min­is­ter and one as gov­er­nor; the Gi­la­nis of Multan, with one term as prime min­is­ter; the Maulanas of D I Khan, with one term as chief min­is­ter, one as fed­eral min­is­ter and one as leader of the op­po­si­tion; and the Khans of Charsadda with only one chief min­is­ter but by all ac­counts the all-time lead­ing fam­ily in KP pol­i­tics).

In Pak­istan, pol­i­tics is by and large a fam­ily af­fair. The party is re­garded as a fief, whose own­er­ship is con­sid­ered an in­alien­able right, and lead­er­ship, like prop­erty, is be­queathed to the next of kin. No out­sider can stake a claim to that. It is in­con­ceiv­able, for in­stance, that any­one not re­lated to the Bhutto-Zar­dari fam­ily could rise to the lead­er­ship of the PPP. Sim­i­larly, any­one can as­sume the high­est slot in the PML-N, pro­vided he or she is a mem­ber of the Sharif fam­ily. As in an ab­so­lute monar­chy or to­tal­i­tar­ian state, the au­thor­ity of the supreme leader of a party gov­erned by a dy­nasty sel­dom comes into ques­tion. Once a party leader, al­ways a party leader. Be­nazir Bhutto was elected PPP chair­per­son for life - a rare thing in a func­tional democ­racy.

By the same to­ken, Zar­dari is likely to re­main in charge of the party for as long as he wants. At some point, he may ab­di­cate in favour of his son, just as kings oc­ca­sion­ally do. But that would be a trans­fer of power within the fam­ily. Like­wise, any­one can chal­lenge the right of the Shar­ifs to call the shots in their party but only at his or her own peril.

Lead­er­ship is one side of the equa­tion; the other side is that of fol­low­ers. If lead­er­ship is re­garded as a birth-right, sub­servience is also con­sid­ered a duty by birth. If a hand­ful of fam­i­lies are des­tined to rule, the rest of so­ci­ety is con­demned to be their fol­low­ers. This, again, is com­pa­ra­ble to the feu­dal sys­tem, in which the scions of lords are lords and the chil­dren of ten­ants are ten­ants. Be­ing strongly em­bed­ded in the na­tional ethos, the dy­nas­tic tra­di­tion is not con­fined to pol­i­tics and political par­ties; it is also present in busi­nesses, which largely re­main a fam­ily en­ter­prise.

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