Is Maryam Nawaz gearing up to be the next prime minister of Pakistan?

Published: October 26, 2015
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Maryam Nawaz Sharif speaking at "Let Girls Learn" event hosted by US First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House. PHOTO: TWITTER (pmln_org)

On October 22nd, the former US First Lady and current Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, survived an 11-hour long congressional hearing pushing her closer to the Oval Office. The same day, Justin Trudeau, the son of former Canadian Premier, Pierre Trudeau, began his takeover of power in Ottawa, Canada. On that very day, just shy of her 42nd birthday, another political heir made her global debut standing next to Michelle Obama in the eastern wing of the White House. 

This woman is Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Pakistan’s incumbent third time Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who has announced a commitment to educate more girls in her country. The fact that Maryam accompanied her father to his US trip seems to be a sign that she is being groomed as the second generation leader of the Sharif political dynasty, one of the two most powerful dynasties in the world’s sixth largest democracy alongside the Bhutto clan. The Twitter savvy Maryam had already been showing signs of influence in Pakistani politics, but her trip to the states is the most evident sign yet of her inevitable succession to the Sharif throne.

Akin to movie sequels, celebrities or major brands, political dynasties in Pakistan, like elsewhere in the world, enjoy recognition, wealth and connections essential to their survival and domination. In Pakistan, these families have substantial influence. Before Nawaz, Pakistan was in the hands of Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who herself was the daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who ruled the country for much of the 70s. Nawaz, a wealthy businessman, governed Pakistan twice in the 90s before coming to power again in 2013. His younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, has been in control of Pakistan’s largest province since 2008 while his nephew, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, has a seat in the parliament.

Bhutto’s and Sharif’s are not the only blue bloods in Pakistan. Out of Pakistan’s nine largest political parties, six have clear affiliation with a dynastic family. This means that unlike Hillary Clinton or Justin Trudeau, these political scions inherit their party leaderships, hence making these political fronts essentially an extension of the family’s personal wealth and prestige. It is a fact, which makes any sense of accountability of these families within these political parties improbable, if not out rightly impossible.

Then there are the smaller families, usually which have influence in specific parliamentary constituencies. A 2013 research found that approximately 44 per cent of all outgoing legislators in Pakistan were related to individuals who had served in previous legislative tenures. This is usually due to a relationship between the larger and smaller political dynasties. This mutually beneficial relationship is based on mutual support aimed at a control of absolute political power. These smaller political dynasties often change their allegiance depending on the public opinion of their constituents – this political fluidity prevents any meaningful political change in the country.

So is there any benefit of having these dynastic families? For one, in a conservative society like Pakistan, women belonging to these families may find it easier to achieve political power, in case of Benazir Bhutto – who if not for her father probably would not have become the prime minister. Perhaps Pakistan might get another female premier in the form of Maryam Nawaz in the future. But this creates an illusion of greater gender equality while the reality for the society at large remains bleak.

If moving from one dynasty to another is considered democracy, then Pakistan is the most democratic nation in the world.

With the grooming of a clear successor of Pakistan’s largest political party, the country can expect to remain under the influence of these dynasties. These dynastic families have become an inescapable part of Pakistan’s political culture. They are keeping up the facade of democracy while maintaining the privilege of a monarchy.

Shahrukh Wani

Shahrukh Wani

The author is an activist who runs the Center for Youth Activism of Pakistan, he is also a student of global development at the University of London. He tweets as @shahrukhwani (twitter.com/shahrukhwani).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • SaljooqAltaf

    Fact Check: Justin Trudeau is the son of Canada’s ex-prime minister, also Hillary Clinton, very much like the widower in PPP, is wife of ex-President. So family connections matter very much in US and Canada as they do any place else.Recommend

  • Anonymous

    Atleast the above mentioned Personalities were Highly qualified.
    Unlike Paya Nihari politics Trained from Capt. Safdar Acadmey.Recommend

  • Malveros

    Maryam Nawaz might turn out to be a breath of fresh air in Pakistan’s Politics. I wouldn’t mind her being PM in future.Recommend

  • Gemini

    Checkout his bio yourself http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/justin-trudeau/ and you will realize what education matters. He was a teacher himself and here they can’t simply maintain govt education standards. A blacksmith will always be a blacksmith. Education only states the difference.Recommend

  • Azmat Ali

    a. On what basis was the entire family visiting the US at Public Expense? Where they all invited to the US by the POTUS family? Was this a national bilateral visit or a personal one?
    b. What are the qualifications of Maryam Nawaz? What is her experience and expertise in the matters of Corporate or State governance, so far? Are there no other female leaders / politicians in PML-N to take on such an important role on behalf of the party?
    c. When was the last time have you ever seen the family of a PM, visiting the US or any other Western Leader nations, ever tweet the personal letter from FLOTUS to them and said thank you on Twitter? The have such low-self esteem of themselves that they couldn’t fathom the diplomatic niceties that come along with being the immediate family of the third-time PM of Pakistan? They were so enamored that they had to go out on Twitter to copy the letter and its packaging to the entire nation?
    d. Does this family have a fashion consultant? What they wore to the occassion was something my children would not wear to a dinner event at their aunt’s place… For that matter, even Michelle seem to not have cared much to dress better than the horrible thing she’s wearing.
    What a joke with this nation.Recommend

  • Pro Truth

    Fact Check: they did not get installed at the top of party leadership, they still had to go through from a normal party worker upwards with real party elections unlike leader for life parties in Pakistan! while they are related they didnt inherit party leaderships!Recommend

  • Pro Truth

    come out of mental slavery! but what can you expect when the party name is PML-Nawaz! means no one else but Nawaz Sharif family can be leader but such leaderships will go like they came via dictator Zia ul Haq. Political parties are based on its core principals and ideologies not on the basis if its a Sharif or Zardari! once they go such parties just vanish in thin air!Recommend

  • Pro Truth

    Who in the Sharif family doesnt like to be Prime Minister as Party is their personal property, so very democratic! But Pakistan is not their personal property and people will not accept slavery, they have kept masses intenially uneducated so they dont throw them out by understanding their cunning plans.

    such parties that are not based on idealogy are seldom survive once their power grip is loose on the status quo!

    People of Pakistan deserve so much better than having these sub par leadership wanna bees!Recommend

  • Ali S

    I detest dynastic politics, but at the very least she will be able to speak in extempore English without looking up from a piece of paper (unlike here father or chachoo) and has experience in handling developmental projects in Pakistan (unlike Bilawal), and of course – she’s a powerful female figure. So as far as the dirty little world of dynastic politics in Pakistan go, I think that – with some more grassroots experience – she would not be nearly as bad an option as the rest.Recommend

  • Hamza Sadiq

    100% agreed. Nice article.Recommend

  • Waqas Malik

    i have serious doubts that people of Upper and Central Punjab will EVER accept this monarchicahl tendency. First of all, NS himself has still got a long career ahead. He is only 64 and his brother Shahbaz Sharif ( a leader in his own right) is 63. There are very little chances that they will loose in 2018 elections. If he wins he will be PM for the fourth term and if things are favorable he can win for the fifth time ( depends). The world of 2028 ( if 78 years old NS survives by then) will be very different. We can expect that any change in leadership of Muslim League at that time, in case both NS and SS exit, wont be monarhical.. However, it can always happen that in case of a great performance as PM and continuous presence and exposure of Maryam in state affairs, then we can always expect a PM MaryamRecommend

  • zafar

    Groomed as PM’s successor! Has Pakistan run out of talent. Educated and brilliant Pakistanis in leadership positions around the world, and we have to put up with this. That is why we need PTI!Recommend

  • Ayesha Abbasi

    Very well written piece. especially the line ‘They are keeping up the facade of democracy while maintaining the privilege of a monarchy.’Recommend

  • lathi-charge

    She should get married to Bilawal, then we can enjoy a 2 in 1 nepotism, a few years downstream !Recommend

  • A J Khan

    She would be accepted as PM but she must get rid of her Zarzadri namely Mr SafdarRecommend

  • Patriot

    I will support Imran Khan’s wife as next PM? She has better experience than Maryam NawazRecommend

  • Lahore wala

    Same Maryam who was made in charge of Youth Loan Scheme,
    [ billions of rupees] by her Papa Nawaz Sharif. And quickly stepped
    down/resigned when Lahore High Court asked her to provide proof of
    her two degrees and credentials. And inquired, under what basis and
    qualifications was she made -In Charge- of this huge loan scheme?
    [except “nepotism”.] More qualified bankers, with years of experience,
    were passed over!Recommend

  • Parvez

    If the Party is comfortable with the arrangement …… so be it. What is more important is that elections when held should reflect the wishes of the people. At present a system exists that where seats are won unopposed and the people are mere spectators and this is just one small example of the manipulation of the system.Recommend

  • Ahmed Raza

    We need to reevaluate how we cast our vote. This is an important issue highlighted by this article.Recommend

  • Alam

    She is doing PHD from Cambridge Univeristy. Check your facts (just because she is not bragging about her PHD thesis doesn’t mean that she is not qualified)Recommend

  • Shan

    Maryam Nawaz is unfortunately recycled air of the same corrupt political system rather than a breath of fresh air who if elected will entertain the interests of family and friends instead of common Pakistani…………Recommend

  • fatski

    We don’t need any more fat faces like her !Recommend

  • zafar iqbal

    There is nothing wrong with being the heir to a politician as long as the heir is capable enough in their own right. Trouble starts when the heir starts acting like they are entitled to the political fortunes of their parents. We have seen this with Bliawal Zardari whose only saving grace is that his mother was Muhtarma BB and his maternal grandfather was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.Recommend

  • pervaiz nasir

    which wife, previous, present or of futureRecommend

  • Shehryar Hassan

    Maryam Nawaz, Humza Shahbaz, Bilawal Bhutto & Malala………………O people! have mercy on yourself……………Recommend

  • Iran Vermi

    You shouldn’t add tweets. Its a nice piece but tweets make it look weird. Plus we have to same problem here in India.Recommend

  • lathi-charge

    In what ? Nepotology ?Recommend

  • Saud

    dynasty (noun): a line of hereditary rulers of a country
    how are the Sharif’s a dynasty? Nawaz Sharif’s father was not even a politician!Recommend

  • http://mobilephones.pk/ DrRoot

    She is doing online degree, regardless of that, very lame attempt at justifying nepotism.Recommend

  • Oats

    Pakistanis don’t read so you can’t expect them to know that dynastic politics is the sad reality all over the world, even in Western and developed countries. The difference is that evolved societies respect the system regardless of flaws. In Japan over 40 % of elected seats are won by people with direct relatives because they exploit contacts. In UK, a small connected circle traditionally exploited the political scene. Randolph Churchill who is Winston Churchill’s father comes to mind. Bush Senior, Bush Junior and now Jeb Bush, the Kenedys, Clintons and countless others don’t mean anything to Pakistanis who have a strange way of living in a bubble. They will find a way to excuse Justin Trudeau for being the son of a former PM being groomed to take over power because it doesn’t fit their own sense of the world being perfect in non Muslim countries. In their world only non Muslim countries can be effective democracies with no faults. All democracies have faults but at least developed societies don’t resort to 3 rd World type rabble rousing!Recommend

  • Syed Raza

    I think you missed the point. hereditary political dynasties are those in which the relatives also have political influence by virtue of being born in a family. Like Nawaz Sharif-Shabaz-Maryam-Hamza etc. they have to start somewhereRecommend

  • stevenson

    The slave mentality is in everyone in Pakistan who worships a leader, a general, a religious Pir or a celebrity. We need to respect the system of democracy because people come and go but the democratic system remains. That’s why the US stays strong regardless if the same families of Clintons and Bushes come and go.Recommend

  • Pratibha Patel

    From what I have seen of her and geard about her, methinks she is an airheadRecommend

  • stevenson

    Justin Trudeau was almost crowned with leadership of the Liberal Party in Canada because people loved his father.Recommend

  • SamSal

    It’s not a beauty pageant, in case you didn’t know.Recommend

  • Brar

    These are not political parties buy pvt ltd companies here is shromani akali dal badal, congress I ie c ongress indira but fault lies with the voters who vote for such parties they r not in politics to serve but rule.Recommend

  • lathi-charge

    No she’s not; that myth of Cambridge University was busted long ago ! Recommend

  • Alam

    how? Can you enlighten us in detail with some link? My source is Daily Telegraph UK. What is yours?Recommend

  • Alam

    What a rubbish answer…Recommend

  • Pro Truth

    It cant be compared to US, in Pakistani version of democracy where each and every government is decided well before sham exercise of elections.Recommend