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Political Dynasties

“Political Dynasties”, a term that is as old as politics. For the ancient civilisations their rulers were concerned with maintaining their legacy, the crown would be passed from parent to child to ensure the family name continues on down the ages.

In today’s political spectrum the idea of dynasties is not too far away (especially in Asia). Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh all pay homage to the idea of a political heritage being carried forward through their leaders. For me, the question that comes to mind is why do we (the voters) continue to decide who will lead us depending on their last name?

In Sri Lanka if you belong to the Wijewardena or the Bandaranaike family you are immediately accepted into the inner politics of the country, whether you take off from there is dependent on your actions but certainly the name will give you that stepping stone. Similarly in India the Nehru-Gandhi family name continues to rule the country, despite its people (and much of the rest of the world) claiming that they are the world’s largest democracy. The Bhutto’s in Pakistan have played prominent roles in shaping their political culture, while in Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina comes from a family of political leaders.

When the Western World talk’s about “Political Dynasties” they refer to them as “misappropriation of power”, an example being the Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il and now Kim Jong-Un succession of power in North Korea. However, for America a family succession in politics is no alien idea with the Kennedy’s and Bush’s being examples (and to a lesser extent the Clintons).

So now that we have determined that “Political Dynasties” are no regional phenomenon, we can look at answering why they are so prevalent around the world. When Sri Lanka achieved independence in 1948 the voters connected this feat to D.S. Senanayake (our first Prime Minister). So naturally, when his son came into politics the people flocked to his side, expecting him to carry out the same work his father did (whether or not he did I will leave up to you to decide). From that point onwards the country was open to the idea of politics being carried forward by the family name.

S.W.R.D Bandaranaike started yet another political legacy in the country when his wife, daughter and son all took to politics (like him both his wife and daughter went on to lead the country). Similarly, as the Senanayake’s before him, his contribution to politics in the founding of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party gave himself a legacy that the people wanted to see continued through his family.

Similar such stories can be shared with the rest of the political families seen throughout the world, but the real reason that these dynasties continue (as I see it) is that the voters hold strong to the notion of not letting the past go. The success of the initial politician has always led to their family continuing on with automatic support of the people. Perhaps the voters feel that their descendants can continue the work they started, or perhaps it is simply a yearning to return to what their parents (or husbands) had done in the past.

A friend told me that this is not so in the UK, their political circles do not see such a trend. I disagree with this remark. In the UK, unlike many other nations, they have retained their monarchy. With this age old tradition of family succession already in place, the people’s yearning to cling on to the idea of “passing the torch down the line” has not been transferred to their politics. The Royal Family may not hold any political power of note, but they are in a public enough position to satisfy this quota.

“Political Dynasties” are, to me at least, not Democracy’s finest moments. The voters choose with their heart rather than mind. While prevalent in Asia it has certainly not died out elsewhere in the world. Whether it will in the future remains to be seen.

I have certainly rambled on in this post, but after discussing this topic till 5 am on a Saturday morning with friends I felt like an outside perspective was needed.

  1. vicky (ananth)
    June 2, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    ‘Political dynasties’ exist in almost all democracies. I believe this is because we don’t have the ‘ideal’ form of democracy practiced anywhere in this world.
    Power abets power. People already in power have the extra edge in a democracy, the politicians then use this to just further their personal interests. Whether that becomes beneficial to the nation in someway is totally an unintended consequence.

  2. June 5, 2012 at 5:00 am

    I’m not sure if you can compare the Kennedy’s and Bush’s to what we have happening here. They had to actually have been involved in politics and do something… SOMETHING. (In the case of the Bush’s we all know what something was)

    What about our dear presidents sons? brothers? I’m not sure they’re in the same league.

    Monarchy on the other hand, what’s the difference between dictatorships and monarchy? Other than all the fools today who go all lala over the fairytale crap and love them. Apart from acceptance of the public, what’s the difference? (I’m not talking about constitutional monarchies, rather the whole idea)

    • June 5, 2012 at 7:43 am

      I am not comparing the our political dynasties to those in America, but what I had hoped to show is that this is not a unique idea. Of course the exploitation of the situation is far worse in this side of the world.

      As for a monarchy, those that still wield power do so because often they are accepted by their people. Perhaps it is because they have been integrated into the rule of law, while dictatorships have forced their way in.

      In fact of the 44 head of state monarchs, there are only 5 which are absolute rule. A sign that the people no longer take them seriously, but like to retain the idea. Three of the five are in the Middle East, and only one of them saw the Arab Spring cross over. In that case they did not even demand the removal of the monarch.

      The Commonwealth’s celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is an example of where the people are ready to celebrate a post that is otherwise redundant. At the end of the day I think the people like having her in place, but by no means want her ruling. A case in point being the anger expressed by university students towards Prince Charles’ motorcade following a hike in fees.

      • June 5, 2012 at 8:11 am

        How can you say that they’re similar (ie not unique from one another) without comparing them? 🙂 Here not just in politics but anything really, name carries a lot of weight, and it shouldn’t. Sharing genes shouldn’t earn you anything special on a large scale.

        That’s the only difference between monarchy and dictatorships – acceptance by the people. They come into power in much the same way that dictators do, by force. Over centuries the concept may have been melded into the law, but that doesn’t really make it all that different does it? Some people can be fooled into thinking that it’s a good idea, god save the queen and all that. She’s another old lady, and my own grandmother has done more worthwhile things in her life than this figurehead. In fact, a life of waving a white gloved hand and reading speeches written by others would’ve been super boring for her.

        Many people say that the monarch’s just hang around now, are publicity figures etc. But how are they affording their fancy lives? Some say it’s not tax payers money, ok then, how did they come to own all the assets off which they live?

        ps – what’s with the crazy timestamps on these comments? :-S I think your wordpress (and mine) time zone is messed up.

  3. June 5, 2012 at 8:21 am

    No I don’t for a second admit a monarch (especially a symbolic one) is of any use. The wedding they had last year was out of taxpayer money, and just so a family of bludgers can continue living the good life. Unfortunately their “loyal subjects” do not seem to want to change.

    Similarities do exist, the Kennedy family continues to get preferential treatment just for their name. But lets face it now they don’t do anything. And Jeb Bush?? He should be thankful he had the second name, because that first name would have left him on the side of the road. His policies, like his brother’s, were a joke but he cruised through on the Bush name.

    No idea about the time stamp, just realised that myself. Will rectify the issue and notify you in writing 🙂

  4. Venison
    June 22, 2012 at 10:42 am

    A celebration of the monarchy in Britain in anyway is almost akin to a traditional new year celebration in Sri Lanka. 90% of the people in the UK are just glad to have a holiday on those days. While I agree it’s a little weird, in the 21st century, to be celebrating things like monarchy and taking them serious enough to air a royal wedding to 1 billion people around the world, I like to think that has more to do with marketing than anything else.

    The royal family in England is iconic for them, and their celebration in those ideals is a celebration of where their values and, as bad it may sound to us, pride comes from.

    Also, chinsen, the Bush’s and Kennedy’s, would have had a privileged upbringing too where they were guided in a subtle manner to the posts they held. The Yale/Harvard clubs and all. In Sri Lanka it is not so subtle.

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