Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Family Politics Debate

Much is made of family politics or مؤروسی سیاست  by the media and a political party claiming to be agents of change. The term is used indiscriminately to refer to families that have been in politics for several generations and to those who are introducing a second generation to politics. Is this phenomenon unique to Pakistan? Is it unique to politics? Is it always bad? We will explore these issues here.

Family politics is prevalent in most democracies. In the United States, the Kennedy family, the Bush Family, the Romney family and the Clintons are all examples from recent history. A long and exhaustive list of US political families and a list of political families around the world is available on Wikipedia. Having established that families with multiple politicians is a common global occurrence we proceed to investigate the underlying reasons.

Parents want their children to follow in their footsteps and children imitate their parents to seek their approval. This is a natural instinct that all of us posses. Children inherit skills from their parents be it mathematical, analytical, physical, social or political. They are raised in an environment where the parents reinforce these skills and act as coaches. Furthermore, these children are exposed regularly to the work environments of their parents which helps them develop early insights into the profession. They are therefore much more likely to succeed in the field chosen by their parents than another child. Famous footballer Lionel Messi posing with a number 10 infant sized Barcelona shirt imprinted with the name of his newborn son Thiago, illustrates this point comprehensively.

The most vocal opponent of family politics in Pakistan, Imran Khan comes from a family of cricketers. His cousins Javed Burki and Majid Khan have played for Pakistan, Majid's son Bazid Khan has also played for Pakistan. Imran's own UK based sons are aspiring cricketers. Does that mean none of them are talented or is mere statement of these facts conclusive proof of nepotism?  For the reasons mentioned earlier, it is natural for there to be more successful cricketers in the family of a cricketer. Similarly there is greater likelihood of more politicians in the family of a successful politician.

Shifting focus to Imran's political career, we see him welcoming the Leghari family which has been the largest single political family of Pakistan over several generations. We also see him appointing family members to the board of directors of the Shaukat Khanum Hospital. If this is not about principals what's this rhetoric really about? All this talk is primarily directed towards the Sharifs and is nothing but a poorly formed argument to malign his perceived political rivals. Let us spend a little time on the political history of the Sharifs.

Sharif's are not a political dynasty by any stretch of imagination. Nawaz Sharif is a first generation politician who entered politics in 1976. His father was an industrialist. His brother, Shahbaz Sharif, entered politics much later and was elected thrice to the Punjab assembly before he first became chief minister of the province. Nawaz Sharif's choice of Shahbaz as the chief minister of Punjab raised several eyebrows in 1997. He has however proved himself to be a worthy choice for the post and even his opponents acknowledge him as an outstanding administrator.

A second generation of Sharifs is now looking to establish itself in politics. We have argued that there is an inherent advantage enjoyed by the children of political families that increases their chances of success. On the flip side people also stand to benefit from these new political entrants. They are immediately able to trust the new candidate as standing for the same values as their parents. They are perceived as the most loyal party proponents that will stand by the party in the most adverse of circumstances. If there is nothing wrong with a cricketer's son being a cricketer or a dentist's son being a dentist, there need not be any stigma attached to a politician belonging to a political family. Media and politicians need to be objective. Criticism of a politician on the basis of his views or his own actions can be justified but mere labeling as a family politician is unimaginative and shallow.


1 comment:

  1. Good one. But one must not forget to mention the Niazis that his own party has. Legharis came to his party from other parties. But the Niazis will be a new political dynasty established in Pakistan, in case IK succeeds to win the elections. Though one needs to be very romantically imaginative to think he can ever make it.