Dynastic politics has always played an outsized role in Pakistani politics.
Just ask former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted by a five-member bench of the Pakistan Supreme Court on Friday over undisclosed wealth. The bench also demanded corruption cases be lodged against Sharif and his family over the Panama Papers scandal.
But even as the obituaries of his political career were being written, Sharif asked his comrades to support his brother Shahbaz Sharif as the next prime minister. “It will take Shahbaz Sharif around 50-55 days to take over as prime minister. He will have to contest elections,” he said.
Sharif also said his old friend Shahid Khaqan Abbasi would take over as interim prime minister.
These moves maintain the Sharif family’s hold over the country through the eponymous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, with Sharif continuing to act as puppet master from his position as head of the party.
“The subtext in all this is that Nawaz Sharif will still have an influence in how things are carried out until the next election and perhaps through the next election,” said political analyst Umair Javad. “This was his (Nawaz’s) way of convincing the party that this brand still exists.”
Shahbaz — currently chief minister of Punjab province, the family’s power base — is expected to slide into his brother’s vacated National Assembly seat before being rubber stamped as prime minister in a parliamentary vote.
“Nawaz has personal political appeal in a way that his brother doesn’t. I think that the dynasty will fray under his brother,” said journalist and commentator Omar Waraich.
The stability under Nawaz Sharif is in stark contrast to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who took over as party chief after the assassination of his mother Benazir Bhutto in 2007. The PPP, which had been a formidable political force and had dominated Pakistani politics for nearly four decades, has been off-balance since her death. In the 2013 general election, the PPP lost from 76 seats. “The leaders have a much stronger brand than the parties. Benazir was always a much stronger brand than the PPP; Nawaz Sharif is a much stronger brand than what the PML-N will be without him,” said Waraich.
Corruption, a way of life
So much so that according to a report in Dawn, even as Sharif raged against his dismissal, he paused to ask, “Is it only my family that should be held accountable? Is everyone else in this country sadiq and ameen? (truthful and trustworthy)?” Which encapsulates the problem in a nutshell.
The fact remains that despite Pakistan being riddled with conception since its birth and though almost every prime minister and president has been accused of corruption, the only head of State to actually be convicted in office was Yousaf Raza Gillani.
For the record, Gillani was found guilty of contempt of court in a corruption-related case after he refused to correspond with Swiss authorities to help reopen legal action against Asif Ali Zardari.
According to The Daily Journalist, corruption was at its zenith between 1990 and 1999, better known as the Bhutto-Sharif years. Four democratically-elected governments were alternately dismissed as a result of charges of corruption and misuse of power.
Such was the corruption under Bhutto that her husband Asif Ali Zardari was nicknamed ‘Mr 10 percent’ (for his alleged propensity to take his cut). The New York Times reported that between 1994 and 1998, a Swiss company reportedly paid millions of dollars to corporations controlled by Zardari and Bhutto. A West Asia gold dealer also reportedly gave Zardari a $10 million bribe after he was given a monopoly on gold imports in Pakistan, according to the report.
Dawn reported that when Sharif was re-elected as prime minister in 1998, he initiated legal proceedings against Bhutto and Zardari, accusing them of embezzling $60 million in Swiss bank accounts. The case was dubbed ‘Swissgate’ by the media. Bhutto and Zardari were convicted in 2003 but the verdict was overturned on appeal.
Pervez Musharraf then negotiated a deal with Bhutto in 2007 and implemented an amnesty law, following which the cases were closed. Zardari remained in prison from 1997 to 2004 on charges pertaining to money laundering, corruption and murder, Dawn reported.
The new boss, same as the old boss
According to this Firstpost article, while Nawaz has stepped down, nothing has really changed in Pakistan. “The very fact that Nawaz’s successor will be his younger brother Shehbaz, who is clearly marking time until he is elected to the national Assembly, indicates that when it comes to Pakistan, all is still very much in the family,” the article argues.
“To the common Pakistani citizen, the Panama Papers revelations are no big deal. To a certain extent, corruption or a certain political expediency are integral to politics,” it said.