Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Democracy and Dynastic Politics.

"The Queen is dead. Long live the King" seemed to be the resounding cry when Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was named successor to his slain mother Benazir Bhutto's legacy. It seemed strange given the total lack of leadership experience of the hapless 19 year old and his mothers' oft stated commitment to the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. Apparently the same values did not extend to her visions for her own party which will continue to be run as a fiefdom of her family. In neighboring India, the ruling Congress party is oft described as the personal fiefdom of the Nehru-Gandhi family, with the leadership transitioning from one family member to another

South Asia is not the only place where dynastic succession is happening despite a democratic framework. Argentina recently saw the transition of power to Cristina Fernández, the wife of the outgoing President - Nestor Kirchner.

Dynastic Politics might have caused a raised eyebrow in the US a few decades ago but now it will be a case of the kettle calling the pot black. We are currently in the midst of a dynastic presidency (Bush I, Bush II and a presumptive heir- Neil Bush waiting in the shadows to be Bush III) and may well be headed into yet another one (Clinton I, Clinton II) in 2009. In the recent past many spouses, children, siblings have also been called upon to complete terms of outgoing senators or stand elections in their lieu.

Some writers have explained the continued dominance of dynastic politics in the developing world as being caused due to a political system which is not able to nurture strong parties with national appeal and acceptability among all castes and religious groups. They think that unless a strong political party structure emerges in these countries, there is no hope of dynastic politics taking a backseat.

This does not explain the prevalence of this trend in developed countries like the US. It seems that there is almost a primordial urge in humankind to cherish some kind of monarchical/dynastic values. That may explain monarchy being established as a form of government, independently across geographic locations, races, cultures etc. Maybe that's why there is a continued attraction to the kind of dynastic succession espoused in movies like Lion King, Godfather where people are supposed to root for the dynastic successor.

While the selection/election of a truly qualified dynastic heir apparently makes sense, in all likelihood the incumbent creates circumstances/opportunities which favor his/her own bloodline at the expense of other qualified contenders. And that is the biggest danger of Dynastic Politics and what should make it an anathema for a modern Democracy. Our founding fathers had realized that when they created a constitution which established our nation as a republic and not a dynastic monarchy. As champions of that visionary legacy it is incumbent upon us that we continue to ensure that the "best person rises to the top" irrespective of his /her dynastic affiliation. And if that person be a spouse, child or sibling so be it. The dynastic badge should by itself not guarantee anything.

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