Posted by: John Elliott | December 31, 2007

Dynasty Brand Bhutto lives on in Pakistan

History has been made in Pakistan this weekend, not just because of the general political fallout from the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), but because the Bhutto family has firmly secured its future as the country’s leading political dynasty.

The family of Pakistan’s other top political leader, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, is not nearly so well established, while the Army, which is the most powerful political organization and currently runs the country through President Pervez Musharraf, passes the baton of command to successive generals who have not been related to each other.

For a few hours it seemed as if the Bhutto dynastic grip might loosen with Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widower, stepping into her shoes and weakening the blood line – something the relatively insignificant Zardari family no doubt wanted.

But a 19-year old son, Bilawal, was quickly brought into the picture and installed as the chairman of the PPP and thus as party leader. Significantly, Bhutto was added to his name – he is now Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

Asif Zardari will be the PPP co-chairman, and political power will be shared with mainstream PPP politicians – neither Bilawal Bhutto, who is at university in the Britain, nor Zardari, will be the PPP’s prime ministerial candidate in coming elections.

There is of course a lot to play for. Zardari, who has been accused of corruption following Benazir Bhutto’s two terms as prime minister, will no doubt try to exert as much political influence as he can.

Some PPP politicians will also emerge as top leaders but, in the way of South Asian politics, Bilawal Bhutto has been firmly established as the head of the dynasty – and therefore as a future prime ministerial candidate, unless he decides later to opt out, which seems extremely unlikely.

That puts him ahead of India’s Rahul Gandhi, who is in his mid-30s. Gandhi is being groomed – but has not yet been officially named – to take over the leadership of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty one day from Sonia Gandhi, his Italian-born mother and current head of the Congress Party. This marks him out as a future prime minister, though he is showing little enthusiasm for the role and has a much more politically capable sister, Priyanka, who currently stays mostly behind the scenes.

There seems to be inevitability about these dynasties. In India, while the Nehru-Gandhis demonstrate all the confidence of people born to rule, a growing number of lesser national and regional politicians are bringing their sons, daughters and sometimes other relations, into politics. This strengthens their own position because they have people they can (usually) trust and it also helps with the management of wealth that usually accumulates.

Most important of all, it is the family name that matters – Brand Bhutto and Brand Gandhi generate instant recognition. The brands may not always pull in the votes, but leaders of both the Congress Party in India and the PPP in Pakistan reckon they gain from them.

Certainly there will be a huge sympathy vote for the Bhutto’s and thus the PPP in the coming Pakistan general election, no doubt echoing what happened in India in 1984 and 1991 when the Congress Party was swept to power with otherwise unlikely massive victories following the assassination first of Indira Gandhi and then of her son Rajiv (Sonia’s husband).

But are dynasties good for the countries? The answer is almost certainly not. India’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has a mixed record and Benazir Bhutto did little useful for her country during her two prime ministerial terms.

The dynasties also block the emergence at the top of other possibly more able politicians, and thus stymie their countries’ political development.

Such considerations however are largely irrelevant – the dynastic brands are well established, as we have seen this weekend.


  1. Hi Fortune people,

    It is too long but 3 months when you carried this article on January 03, 2008 with the title Musharraf Sets Stage For election Rigging by Jon Elliott (In fact, he has been proved idiot).
    The world saw that elections were free, fair, transparent and impartial.
    Don’t you feel SHAME today and the Idiot John for lying to the readers.

  2. Dynasties are definitely bad considering the overall political scenario but in the case of pakistan there is a lot else that is not being considered. A large percent of the population is illiterate and for them individuals entering into politics from a background similar to their own are much more capable of ruling the country then sudden upstart individuals who dont have strong political background.

  3. Elliot is bang on when he says that political dynasties are not good for either India or Pakistan as they block th e emergence of more able leaders and stymie their countries’ political development.

    I will be more forthright and go so far as to say that India’s Congress party is on the verge of demise because of total, almost paranoid dynastic control. The irony is that while the common man is looking away at other, possibly better alternatives, it is the educated elite and the so called intelligentsia that is propping up the dynasty, while the party becomes increasingly lifeless and without a sense direction.

  4. Great article explaining politics in South Asia; do people still think Bhutto was a capable leader? And most importantly, how can you talk about democracy in the country when you don’t even have elections within your own party and nominate your 19 year-old son to head the party?

  5. The Bhutto dynasty was established by Zulfiqar Ali’s father, Shah Nawaz Bhutto. Shah Nawaz was the “dewan” (prime minister) of the princely state of Junagadh (in modern day Gujarat’s Saurashtra peninsula) and is famous for controversially wanting to merge it with Pakistan’s Sindh during partition (but Sardar Patel’s timely actions ensured the Nawab of Junagadh finally decided to accede to the Indian Union). Shah Nawaz later shifted to Larkana, Sindh, and would often invite Pakistan’s early generals and dictators (such as Ayub Khan) to hunting trips, etc.

    BTW, it would be more accurate to call the Indian political family as only the “Nehru dynasty” and not “Nehru-Gandhi”. That is what it effectively is — just because these people use the surname “Gandhi” doesn’t make them relatives or political successors of Gandhi, does it.

  6. Bhutto thought she was like the Queen of England and relegated her heir apparent. What an arrogant decision. Her son, the idiot is falling in for it and he will be the next martyr.
    The British people are stupid enough to maintain the royal family. That does not mean all the newly independent countries have to follow this stupidity. The Bush dynasty has destroyed the U.S.A. That is another example of stupidity of dynastic rules.
    Hope the Pakistanis and the Indians will get over their dynasties soon.

  7. Prior to British rule, the Indian subcontinent was governed by hereditary princes. My view of history is basically that “the more things change the more they stay the same”. Thus, when outside control is removed, countries tend to default to the systems they are most comfortable with. In this case, it’s a quasi-hereditary government for both India and Pakistan.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: