Since Pakistan’s inception in 1947, a limited number of families have controlled its legislatures. These families typically come from ethnic and rural landowning roots. The situation in the twenty-first century is still primarily immutable. The expansion of dynastic politics to include families with urban and religious ties may really be the most significant change. The phenomenon of political dynasties, which is defined as a family with several members who are politically active, is not unique to South Asia but rather widespread. 12% of all world leaders belonged to a political family, according to a study published in the Historical Social Research journal that looked at 1,029 political executives in different parts of the world between 2000 and 2017.
In terms of representation, Pakistani politics essentially remains unaltered as the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) continue to hold the thrones for the new generations of Bhutto-Zardaris and Sharifs, respectively. As a result, with the exception of PTI, Pakistani politics has largely been like a game of perpetual ping-pong between the House of Sharif and the House of Bhutto. Maryam Nawaz Safdar has “Nawaz” in her name, and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has “Bhutto” in his name because neither would be who they are if not for their last names.
Although political dynasties have long been a part of Pakistani democracy, there is something subtly unsettling about Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s climb to power. Benazir Bhutto earned the right to be the country’s leader long before she inherited the PPP by running a brilliant and valiant fight against the dictator Ziaul Haq. Similar to this, Nawaz Sharif served as Punjab’s chief minister and its provincial finance minister before entering the federal political arena. After his mother was killed, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari abruptly filled in for her and inherited the PPP without having any prior merit-based political experience. In the same way, Maryam Nawaz only stepped forward to replace her father, Nawaz Sharif, after he had to flee the country owing to judicial proceedings against him. Hence, two potential future leaders of the country are being propelled to the top without any significant political experience.
Family-first policies hindering democratic growth
Recently, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif appointed his own niece, Maryam Nawaz, as the senior vice president of the PML-N, authorizing her to “reorganize” the party “at all functional levels.” Somehow, conducting party meetings and making occasional sentimental speeches has converted into being sufficiently prepared to participate in politics. Maryam Nawaz is slated to inherit the PMLN, while her son Junaid Safdar is also expected to make his political debut in Pakistan. According to rumors, Junaid Safdar may relocate to Pakistan to support his mother, Maryam Nawaz, after she is appointed senior vice president and top organizer of the PML-N.
Supporters of the PPP and PML-N will point to the undeniable fact that, unless voters choose to elect them, neither Maryam Safdar nor Bilawal Zardari is likely to ever assume a position of high public office. That may be true in a narrow electoral sense, but such ostensibly family-first policies prevent Pakistan’s democracy from genuinely progressing. The most frightening aspect and key element in Pakistan’s dynastic politics’ success is without a doubt the emotional attachments that people have to these families. Pakistan will not develop into a true democracy unless the populace entirely rejects dynastic politics and places a premium on merit, political experience, and educational credentials.