As elections draw nearer, a consistent observation keeps validating itself. Election campaign advertisements across the continuum appear to be centring around one constant. That particular element remains to be the cult of personalities. From left, center to right, individual leaders (living and late) dominate the discourse of campaigns and promises. This very fixation of parties and their very leadership to project themselves through the election campaign substantiates an important concern. The current political leadership’s anxiety to elevate alternate leadership in their own parties, and the bitter fact, that parties remain family or personality enterprises. Be it PPP’s obsession with legacy of Bhuttos, PML-N’s inability to look beyond the house of Sharifs, and PTI’s unquestioned zeal for Imran Khan. This pattern begs one question, despite democracy developing in Pakistan are political parties preparing the nation and its individuals in more people empowered Pakistan? 

Consistency of this pattern requires introspection and reflection from political parties in Pakistan. Are they contributing to make Pakistan democratic in letter and spirit, or merely in rhetoric? Democracy needs to be seen with individuals becoming empowered. The question remains how could such change transpire and doom of democracy averted? The answer lies in parties need to acknowledge that they need to create new leaders. And it is through this trend, that political parties will bring to manageable control the epidemic presence of electable candidates across Pakistan.

Despite South Asia being victim of dynastic politics, political leadership in Pakistan needs to determine if it will continue to follow suit or create an exceptional precedent in region’s politics. And most importantly will it in truth delegate power to people. Relegating reign of power can be an uphill task, but in triumph of democracy should political parties simply shy away from it? The answer is a blunt, “No”. Political parties and their leadership need to realize, the idea and reality of state is far bigger than their individual persona. And only in introduction of this democratic ritual will politics of manifesto trump the politics of personality cults. Only then, political parties will give precedent to make their manifestos more competitive and attractive. And most importantly only such unorthodox practice will ensure presence of parties on horizon of reality. Else political parties will crumble in absence of their dynastic political leaders. Perhaps our torchbearers of democracy need to confront the truth why Democrats and Republicans in the United States never conditioned their relevance and success to careers of Clintons, Bushes, or Kennedys. Or in the United Kingdom Liberals are not bound by the house of Churchill’s or Conservatives are never in search to revive the cult of Margaret Thatcher to make Tories relevant. The answer lies in the ethos, values, and set of policy actions of the political parties that have kept them relevant among the masses in the United States and United Kingdom, respectively. The very answer remains true for future of political parties and democracy itself in Pakistan. 

The gravity of challenges faced by Pakistan in area of economy, governance and human development, needs an unprecedented culture of democracy. And only would then people become in truth part of Pakistan’s democracy. Other than addressing the immediate and long term challenges political parties must create prodigies of future politics. Parties looking towards a future which is not solely conditioned to the legacies of Bhuttos and presence of Zardaris, the relevance of Sharifs, or charisma of Imran Khan for their party-sustainability. But Political parties that in essence are by, for and of the people of Pakistan.  Only then will the unshakeable edifice of democracy become bastion for its people, and its institutions.


The author is a Consultant at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).