Archive for August 6th, 2010

Bilawal and the PPP Throne

Image: Telegraph

Anger continues to rise against President Asif Ali Zardari, as critics lambast the leader for jetting off on a Europe tour while the country faces devastating floods and violence. After his meeting with British PM David Cameron [who made some very controversial remarks against Pakistan last week], Zardari told reporters,

Storms will come and storms will go, and Pakistan and Britain will stand together and face all the difficulties with dignity.

Storms will come and storms will go“? Very sensitive analogy, Mister President, particularly when 4.5 million people have been affected by floods caused by torrential storms.

Attention has also been directed towards Bilawal Bhutto, son of Zardari and the late Benazir, the “heir” of the Pakistan People’s Party. In a biting article entitled, “Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: Born to Rule Pakistan, but Destined to Fail,” the Telegraph‘s Dan Nelson wrote,

So this Saturday, the Bhutto-Zardari family will present Bilawal Zardari, or “Bilawal Bhutto Zardari” as he is now known, as the PPP’s new leader, head of the family business, at a party rally in Birmingham. Despite his tender age and minimal experience of Pakistan, the young scion of one of the country’s wealthiest feudal families will take over the reins of the country’s largest political party…It’s a position for which there was neither contest nor welcome contestants. While the PPP has a number of promising up-and-coming MPs, like Palwasha Khan, or inspirational and able veterans like Aitzaz Ahsan (the former interior minister who led the successful lawyers’ movement to reinstate the deposed chief justice), merit simply doesn’t come into it.

In a statement released Thursday though, Bilawal “categorically denied” that he would be launching his political career tomorrow, emphasizing that he is instead opening a donation point for the flood victims in Pakistan. He stated, “I felt it was necessary to issue a statement to counter some inaccurate information that has recently been reported. As for my future plans, I intend to continue my education both academic and political.”

The back-and-forth has left me both perturbed and irritated. First, why are we still so surprised and incenced by the presence of dynastic politics in Pakistan? Yes, it is disturbing that the PPP and political parties in the region as a whole portray political office more as a family business than a merit-based career. But isn’t that also something fundamentally wrong with society’s perception of politics? Don’t we, at the end of the day, vote [at least some of] our leaders into power? If dynasties have become the norm in the region, then society also plays a role in perpetuating the reality of personality-based politics.

Second, are we selective in our criticism of Bilawal Bhutto? I find it interesting that past coverage of his political journey have been framed alongside the presence of his cousin Fatima Bhutto, not veteran politicians who have devoted their careers to the PPP. Articles have discussed who is more “deserving” of the PPP throne, with Jemima Khan acidly noting in 2008, “If everything’s in a name, Fatima need not have changed hers in order to inherit. Brought up in Pakistan, unlike Bilawal, and a native speaker, she is an established writer and political commentator. At least she has some work experience. Aunt Benazir’s first-ever job was prime minister of a 160-million-strong nation.” Yowza. Catty.

While I am not a proponent of personality politics, and certainly not of the paradoxical “dynastic democracies,” I do think it’s important to go beyond being angry about Bilawal Bhutto and ask deeper questions about the prevailing reality of Pakistan. Also, I do think (as I mentioned in my last post) that we really should be concentrating our energies elsewhere – like actually donating our time and money towards the millions of people impacted by the floods. Isn’t that what’s really important right now?

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