Sunday, 30 December 2007

Diva Augusta

My suggestion that the politics of Pakistan recalls that of ancient Rome (as brought to life so memorably by HBO) turns out to be truer than even I had imagined, with today's news that Benazir Bhutto has left her party (and perhaps her country) to her nineteen year old son in her will.

Not since the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44BC brought the teenage Octavian to the fore can political succession have been decided quite so imperiously. Like Caesar, Bhutto (who often cultivated the image of a Roman empress) apparently considered that her party was her personal plaything, to be disposed of after death as she willed, a belief that might in other contexts be considered entirely delusional. Of course, dynastic politics is nothing new in the region: democratic forms float frequently upon the deep waters of ancestral loyalty, and she herself inherited the "Pakistan Peoples Party" from her judicially murdered papa. But she was at least in her late twenties at the time, and had been serving a political apprenticeship for years. Bilawal is a student at Oxford: absurdly, obscenely young to be placed in such a prominent and dangerous position.

There may have been an element of Hobson's choice about the succession. There are other family members, but most of them weren't on speaking terms with the late Benazir. Her husband is set to be the de facto leader, but his reputation is so stained by years of kick-backs that his open leadership might have proved too much even for the Bhuttos' sycophantic acolytes to stomach. So the boy it is.

Octavian, of course, turned out to be one of history's most astute (and ruthless) politicians, but the initial result of his elevation was to plunge the Roman empire into twenty years of civil war.