Women in Political Dynasties

women in office

From this week’s Economist:

‘There are now more than 20 female relatives of former leaders active in national politics around the world. They include three presidents or prime ministers and at least half a dozen leaders of the opposition or presidential candidates (see table). There are no historical numbers for proper comparison, but it is hard to think of another period—certainly no recent one—when so much dynastic authority has been flowing down the female line.’

And some interesting ideas on why that might be:

‘Some of these women have made it on their own.’ [Hilary Clinton for example]

‘Family name confers brand recognition, useful contacts and financial contributions’

‘As politics becomes more professional and specialised —with politicians increasingly knowing no other walk of life—the advantages of being brought up in its ways and wiles grow greater.’

‘In the West it is no longer exceptional for women such as Martine Aubry or Marine Le Pen to run for the highest office. In Asian countries it now seems easier for a dynasty’s founder to pass over talentless playboys in favour of more intelligent and perceptive daughters (like Thailand’s new Prime Minister delegate, Yingluck Shinawatra).’ [i.e. intra-elite meritocracy is coming along nicely]

Term limits make it an obvious way to extend a family’s period in office.

Update: Allison asks the great question ‘what about male dynasties’, i.e. men in power now (so no Bushes or Kennedys please). All we can come up with is Raul Castro + just about every monarch. Please add to the list.

Wives and Daughters

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5 Responses to “Women in Political Dynasties”
  1. Ines

    two thoughts:
    – what do male dynasties look like?
    – it has long been realised that women find it easier to access power through informal means as formal ones are often precluded to them. More interestingly: often female succession seems to follow at some point male martyrdom, especially in Asia
    (http://www.congoforum.be/en/analysedetail.asp?id=146766&analyse=selected)(Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.)….is this what it takes to make room for women leaders?

  2. Allison Burden

    Thanks for this Duncan.

    Do we have the comparative numbers for the number of male relatives of former leaders who are active in national politics around the world?

    I would imagine that there are far more of them than females, but I don’t have the figures.

    What strikes me is not the gender aspect of the data but simply the fact that processes of democracy seem to be so overtly dominated by families whether in the US, UK or anywhere.

    Duncan: Great question Allison. So who can you think of apart from Raul Castro and just about every monarch in the world!

  3. I suspect the largest number of male dynastic representatives might be found at local and sub-national levels at the moment. In addition to the Bushes and Kennedys, America has the Cuomos in New York, the Udalls in Colorado, Arizona and Utah, the Tafts in Ohio, and many others, all of them represented by sons and brothers. In West Bengal, you now have a third generation of sons competing for office. Here is a description of that development: http://www.facenfacts.com/NewsDetails/8962/dynasty-rules-indian-elections.htm. At the national level, in South Asia, dynastic succession passes through both male and female lines; it’s not one or the other. Asif Ali Zardari, president of Pakistan is the widower of Benazir, who was the daughter of a former prime minister. In India, Indira Gandhi took over the Congress party from her father; Indira bequeathed it to Rajiv, her son; Sonia, his widow, took it over from him. And many people expect Rahul, her son to inherit it from her. This article looks in more detail at why dynasties continue to thrive in democracies: http://www.economist.com/node/2281615

  4. Helen

    Hi Duncan,

    On a related note:

    In British politics, a relatively high number of the (still too few) women MPs are actually daughters, siblings, or other halves of a politician.

    I don’t have it to hand, but see Jeremy Paxman’s ‘The Political Animal’ for discussion of this.

    So that might fit with the issue about informal routes being more accessible to women. It would be interesting to look at trends over time/ more progressive places e.g. Sweden, and see whether it’s just a phase… does more formal space open up eventually, once the precedent has been set?

  5. Maggie B

    Interesting post! Some thoughts for male dynasties…
    -Assad family in Syria
    -President of Pakistan is former PM’s son-in-law and widower of another PM (Bhutto family)
    -Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-un in DPRK
    -Albanian president til ’07, Moisiu, was son of commander of Albanian army

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