Culture and elections

politics and culture — By on December 31, 2007 at 2:33 pm

Kenya has erupted into violence after a disputed election. The Pakistani political party of Benazir Bhutto has named her 19-year-old son as the party’s new leader.  This post is not meant to judge the politics of other countries. After all, the U.S. faced some problems of its own with a hotly disputed election seven years ago and, as Andrew Sullivan notes, we’re also dealing with a few American political dynasties at the moment.

Rather, what is interesting about both of these stories is that it emphasizes the role of culture in the government and politics of every country. 

In Pakistan, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was named his mother’s successor at only 19 years of age, but in keeping with the dynastic traditions that are common across South Asia. His mother had herself taken over the reigns of the Pakistan Peoples Party from her father. As the New York Times writes:

The decision to place burden of blood and history on the son reflects … an abiding dynastic streak in South Asian politics — three generations of the Nehru-Gandhi family have dominated politics in India, and hereditary politics pervade Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as well.

In Kenya, meanwhile, the eruption of violence is not only over a disputed election result, but also over tribal grievances that have spilled into politics. The Washington Post reports:

But an undercurrent of tribalism ran through the campaign season, with Odinga accusing Kibaki of favoring his own ethnic group and raising suspicions that his inner circle would never relinquish power…

As the sun set Sunday, thousands of ardent Odinga supporters raged through the muddy, foot-worn paths of Nairobi’s biggest slum, Kibera, wielding nail-studded sticks, heavy rocks, hammers, machetes and flasks of alcohol, setting ablaze a market run mainly by Kibaki’s tribe, the Kikuyu, and continuing on…

The head of Kenya’s Red Cross Society, Abbas Gullet, told AP that the homes of many Kikuyu families had been attacked around the country and some of the residents were seeking refuge in police stations.

Two countries, two political systems, two sets of issues. But scratch the surface and you find cultural issues underpinning both stories.

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