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Strengthening dynasties

Dynastic politics is not a new phenomenon in our politics. Political dynasties are well entrenched in our political system. But Pakistan is not the only country in South Asia which is facing this phenomenon; other South Asian countries including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal also have political dynasties.

In some countries like India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, many old dynasties have faded away and their grip on parliamentary politics is loosening. But unfortunately in Pakistan, this trend is strengthening with every passing day. Every general election in Pakistan in the last two decades has further strengthened the grip of political dynasties in Pakistan.

The Pakistani elite has used dynastic politics and electables to dominate the political and democratic processes. Pakistani politics has become more elitist despite the fact that we are heading for the fourth general election since 2002 without any major disruption.

The continuity of democratic process and parliamentary democracy has failed to break or even lose the grip of the elite and dynasties. No serious effort is being made by the political leadership to strengthen party organizations at the grassroots level to weaken the grip of electables and dynasties. Party structures are weak at the local level. Political activists have been replaced by the market forces. From door-to-door campaigns to advertisement, everything is done through private contractors. Party organizations play little role in this process.

There were some hopes that the PTI would challenge dynastic politics and try to change the political course. But it embraced electables in big numbers and helped them strengthen their grip on constituency politics in 2018. An overwhelming number of party tickets were issued to powerful political families. In many cases, one influential family was awarded more than one ticket.

More than 40 powerful families in Punjab were awarded 80 tickets for both national and provincial assembly seats. Some lucky families got more tickets. Contrary to the PTI’s tall claims of bringing change and opposing dynastic politics, the party further strengthened dynastic politics in Pakistan.

The process of awarding party tickets to different candidates for the February 8 elections is underway at the moment. Every party is interested in choosing the strongest possible candidate without taking into account the ideology, loyalty and past of these candidates.

The distribution of tickets has made one thing clear: major political parties like the PML-N, PPP, and PTI are the parties of the ruling elite. They are awarding party tickets to feudal lords, capitalists, tribal chiefs, former civil and military bureaucrats and rich people.

Due to its peculiar situation, the PTI is keen to award party tickets to prominent lawyers where electables are not available. They have completely ignored the working class, lower middle class, small farmers and traders and other exploited sections. They are also ignoring their diehard workers while awarding party tickets. The political leadership is preferring money, power and influence and vote bank over party loyalty, commitment and hard work of party activists – electables over educated, fresh and energetic young candidates.

No political party seems interested in awarding party tickets to young people from the middle and working classes. The ruling elite has effectively pushed oppressed classes out of the electoral arena. The role of the working and lower middle classes and young people have been reduced to cast the ballots. Their choice is limited.

Our political leadership mainly consists of a few families: the Bhuttos, the Sharifs, the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, and the Walis, and other politicians like Maulana Fazalur Rehman are leading their respective political parties. This trend is not limited to mainstream political parties but even smaller parties are also in the grip of dynastic politics. In every district and constituency, we now have strong political families who dominate local politics.

Regardless of whoever wins the next election and forms the government, it is clear that dynastic politics is going to be further strengthened. Let me explain this with some concrete examples: four members of the Sharif family – Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz – are contesting elections from the combined seven National Assembly and six provincial assembly seats in the upcoming elections. Asif Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and other members of the family will contest at least four national and two provincial assembly seats.

The family of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazalur Rehman is contesting elections from four national assembly and three provincial assembly seats. Pervaiz Khattak’s family is contesting elections on two national and three provincial assembly seats in Nowshera. The Chaudhrys of Gujrat are contesting elections on five national and four provincial assembly seats from Gujrat and Talagang.

The story doesn’t end here. One can witness that every district is dominated by three or four families. Every powerful family is contesting elections on more than one seat. Political parties are looking for the strongest possible candidates to win a maximum number of seats in the national and provincial assemblies.

More than 300 influential political families in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Sindh and Punjab represent more than two-thirds of national and provincial assemblies. This is why democracy is so volatile and fragile.

The situation was not as bad as it has become in the last couple of decades. As left, working-class, student and peasant organizations weakened, the traditional ruling elite gained more ground. Without introducing meaningful pro-people reforms in the social, political and economic structure, any change is hardly possible.

The 2024 general elections are not going to be any different from the last nine general elections held in Pakistan since 1985. The same old traditional ruling elite will represent the almost 128.6 million voters in the national and provincial assemblies.

The richest families of the country will represent the most backward, underdeveloped and poorest constituencies. Workers will be represented by industrialists, small farmers and peasants will be represented by big landlords and feudals. And the oppressed will be represented by billionaires.

Khalid Bhatti, "Strengthening dynasties," The News. 2024-01-02.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political party , Bureaucrats , Democracy , Pervaiz Khattak , Nawaz Sharif , Pakistan , JUIF , PPP