The distaff of office
More sisters, daughters and wives of powerful leaders are taking the top political jobs
Jul 7th 2011 | from the print edition
“LET’S hear it for Dubai!” Yingluck Shinawatra led the crowd’s roar of approval at a campaign stop in Thailand, leaving little doubt of where her political allegiances lie: the Gulf city is home to her brother, the deposed and exiled prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. “If you love my brother”, she said at another rally, “will you give his younger sister a chance?”
Ms Yingluck’s victory in Thailand’s general election on July 3rd is the latest example of an intriguing and, it seems, growing trend: for the sisters, daughters and widows of former leaders to take over the family political business on the death, retirement or—in Mr Thaksin’s case—exile of the founder. 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.
Some of these women have made it on their own. Others are at last getting a fairer share of the dynastic privileges that used to accrue to men. Family name confers brand recognition, useful contacts and financial contributions—all of which are vital in democracies, and become more so as retail politics become more important. So America has not only its Bush and Kennedy clans, but the Daley family of Chicago, the Cuomos of New York, the Udalls of the Rocky Mountain states. 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. Violet Bonham Carter, daughter of H.H. Asquith, a British prime minister, told Winston Churchill that her father had talked to her about affairs of state as a child. “I wish I could have had such talks with mine,” was Churchill’s reply, of his austere parent. Many of today’s political daughters have Lady Violet’s advantages.
Power behind, and on, the throne
In the past, widows or daughters inherited their position. Sonia Gandhi, president of India’s ruling Congress party, is the widow of Rajiv, a former prime minister and scion of the Gandhi dynasty founded by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, which descended through his daughter, Indira. This set a pattern in South Asia. In Sri Lanka, Chandrika Kumaratunga, president from 1994 to 2005, has the unusual distinction that not one but both parents served as prime minister. In Bangladesh the leaders of the main political parties, called the “battling Begums”, are each related—one, the widow, the other, a daughter—to the first two presidents of the country.
In South-East Asia, Aung San Suu Kyi owes her moral authority not only to her courage in standing up to the Burmese army, but also to her family: her father, Aung San, led Burma’s independence movement. When Indonesia was seeking a new start after the removal of its long serving dictator, Suharto, it turned to Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of the man he overthrew. In the Philippines the past three presidents have been the widow of an opposition leader (Corazon Aquino), the daughter of a president (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) and Corazon’s son, Noynoy (none of his four sisters has gone into politics). And in case you think widows matter only in such rickety democracies as the Philippines and South Asia, consider that in America, eight senators and 38 Congresswomen have directly succeeded their husbands in their seats since 1921.
At the moment several new factors are combining to favour the distaff side more. 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. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did this when choosing Benazir to run his Pakistan People’s Party, overlooking his son, Murtaza, who was also a member of parliament. Thaksin Shinawatra’s choice of his youngest sister, Yingluck, rather than any of his seven other siblings—one of whom is a party leader—was similarly vindicated by her performance on the stump.
In two countries, special factors explain the rise of political daughters. Park Geun-hye in South Korea and Keiko Fujimori in Peru got early starts in the family business: both had to step into their mother’s shoes and act as first lady while still at school. Ms Park’s mother was assassinated; Ms Fujimori’s parents divorced during her father’s presidency.
Some political families seek to extend their authority by passing the presidency from husband to wife—a Latin American tradition extending at least as far back as Isabelita, Juan Perón’s third wife. Cristina Fernández took over Argentina’s presidency from her late husband Néstor Kirchner. Sandra Torres, now divorced from Guatemala’s president, ??lvaro Colom, wanted to run for his job. He was excluded by term limits—and the electoral authorities decided that, as a close family member, albeit a divorced one, so was she.
Perhaps the most powerful trend now boosting the influence of political daughters is the family need to tame—for electoral purposes—the authoritarian character of fathers. Daughters seem to embody their male relatives’ agenda—but with the rough edges planed away. A remarkable number of today’s presidential contenders are daughters of strongmen: Ms Park in South Korea, Ms Le Pen in France, Peru’s Ms Fujimori, Zury Ríos Montt in Guatemala, Dariga Nazarbayeva in Kazakhstan. Ms Yingluck is a variation on the theme: on the campaign, she toned down her brother’s populism and made a virtue of being untainted by his corruption. Alessandra Mussolini turns out to have been a trailblazer: the kinder, gentler face of fascism.
也许，现在助推政治家女儿的影响力最有力的趋势是——为了竞选目的——家族需要将父亲独裁者的个性变得更温顺。女儿们似乎将她们家族男性的责任都集于一身——但带来的结果却是磨平了棱角。如今的总统候选人中很大一部分是铁腕人物的女儿：韩国的朴瑾惠、法国的玛琳??勒庞、秘鲁的藤森庆子、危地马拉的Zury Ríos Montt、哈萨克斯坦的Dariga Nazarbayeva。英拉是该趋势的一个反例：在竞选中，她很少谈及她哥哥的平民主义，并且与他信的腐败问题也划清界限。亚历山德拉??墨索里尼被证实是一个先驱者：更加善良、更加优雅的法西斯主义。
John Knox, a 16th-century Calvinist, condemned the governments of Queens Elizabeth and Mary (of Scots) as “this monstrous regiment [rule] of women”. The new generation of wives and daughters may perhaps improve upon their male forebears. But this is dynastic politics still—with the back-stabbing, family feuds and lack of accountability that come with it.