By Dilip Bobb
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unvarying attacks on the Nehru-Gandhi family and dynastic privilege may be starting to sound like he’s stuck in an echo chamber but a new study has shown that one in 10 world leaders come from families with strong political roots. The study, published in the journal Historical Social Research is authored by Farida Jalalzai , Professor and Hannah Atkins Endowed Chair of Political Science, Oklahoma State University and Meg Rincker, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University Northwest. They examined the backgrounds of 1,029 political executives – presidents and prime ministers – in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Latin America from 2000 to 2017. Their finding: 119, or 12%, of all world leaders came from a political family. The authors defined “political family” as having either a blood or marital tie to someone already involved in politics, whether as a judge, party official, bureaucrat, lawmaker, president or activist.
The authors make the significant point that while power is by nature inherited in monarchies, even in democracies – where citizens choose their leaders in free and fair elections – belonging to a political family is a meaningful advantage. It gives candidates name recognition, some political experience and better access to allies and resources when running for office. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, ex US President George Bush and former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner are prominent examples but there are plenty more. Bush and Trudeau, the authors point out, were democratically elected executives who also had direct ties to that office, given that their fathers had previously served in the same role. Surprisingly, according to the study, North America actually had the highest rate of leaders with family ties. Two of the eight presidents and prime ministers who served during the period of the study were related to past heads of state. Conventional wisdom suggests that dynastic rule or leaders with political family ties is more prevalent in Asia and Africa. In fact, Europe is no far behind in adopting the trend. A region of durable democracies, 13 per cent of European presidents and prime ministers between 2000 and 2017 came from political families – the same proportion as in Latin America. Asian presidents and prime ministers were not far behind, according to the study. Twenty-three of 204 Asian leaders covered in the study had family connections to politics.
This study certainly calls into question the notion that politics is only a meritocracy.