Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Raza Rabbani Khar and Hussain Elahi are the three youngest politicians elected into the National Assembly following the general elections of 2018. All the three are under thirty and the youngest politicians in parliament during this term. Normally, this would be cause for celebration; young blood entering the political arena is a sign of obvious, if only cosmetic change. But their surnames are the true depiction of reality; these young leaders did not rise through the ranks, or work for their constituencies at the grassroots level to get voted into power, they were simply born into the right family.
And that is the real state of democracy in Pakistan today; political parties are flooded with second, third and even fourth generation politicians that do not have the experience or the motivation to work for the betterment of the people – these individuals were born to rule, and we put them on a pedestal simply because their name is familiar to us. Visit the closest village or town and it is likely that at least one of the local national or provincial players belongs to a family with other seasoned politicians. It is small wonder then, that the country’s affairs are managed by families that treat politics as a family business, limiting opportunities for anyone outside the ruling elite to break into mainstream politics.
An example of this can be seen in the general elections that took place in July. Muhammad Jibran Nasir, notable activist and a new politician, has a lot more on his CV in the way of service to the people than the names this article began with. His failure to bring his narrative of inclusivity and equality is a sad loss for the parliament in these next five years. Admittedly, his competition made his victory all but impossible; the winner from his constituency on the National Assembly seat is none other than Arif Alvi, PTI President Sindh and soon-to-be President of Pakistan according to his party’s nomination. An independent candidate with no political backing never really stood a chance. Nevertheless, young politicians that actually have something tangible to show for their efforts do not get the same traction as those with influence as a result of their family.
This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the bid to make Pakistan more democratic; across the world, party leaders are put to the highest standard by their workers. The Australian party system is on the other extreme end of this; the past ten years have seen a tumultuous musical chairs between party leaders. The recent ouster of former Prime Minister Turnbull due to fears of impending electoral defeat is a telling reminder of how politicians in the rest of the world do not have it as easy as their Pakistani counterparts. A lack of results in government, the failure to lead the party to an election victory, corruption scandals (or any scandals for that matter) and a host of other reasons can lead to the untimely end of political careers in other democratic nations.
Pakistan’s electoral battleground must also look to move beyond party traditions. Why is it that only a Bhutto or Zardari can lead the Pakistan Peoples’ Party? Or that only a Sharif can take the top slots in both provincial and national governments of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz? The current ruling party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) has Imran Khan as its cultish leader and no family descendants, but whether the party can even function without him as a figurehead is arguable. Until we move past names and on to abilities, from families to deliverables and from influence and wealth to actual attempts to make Pakistani society better in some way, we will be forced to applaud the bare minimum and clutch at straws in trying to defend our chosen leader. Bilawal Bhutto’s speech in the National Assembly is the perfect example of this; a decent speech, but by no means revolutionary. This is the bare minimum of what politicians should say. The fact that they don’t and that we scramble at the opportunity to applaud him for it is a very telling indicator of how problematic politics in Pakistan really is.
The writer is a freelance contributor.