Feudal ruler sure to win in Pakistan

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The Independent Online
HALA - In the final few days before elections in Pakistan, hundreds of politicians are canvassing frantically for 206 parliamentary seats. In the 207th constituency, not a banner, not a rally is in sight.

The local feudal ruler, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, 55, who owns thousands of acres of land, became the only candidate to reach parliament unopposed this month when all other would-be contenders withdrew at the last minute.

Mr Fahim is among the most prominent, and politically powerful, of the feudal landowners who have long dominated the National Assembly, the lower house. Two- thirds of its members are hereditary landowners or princelings.

Almost all Pakistan's non-military rulers have been feudal landowners, including Benazir Bhutto and her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Their cousins, sons and uncles fill, and have filled, the national and provincial assemblies.

'Our family serves the people of this area,' Mr Fahim said. He is the eldest son of a family that prevents its daughters from marrying for fear of diluting landholdings based in this town in Sind province. He is the 18th to inherit the title making him head of his own religious sect.

'We have kept ourselves close to the masses,' Mr Fahim said. 'People come to us to discuss their problems and we try to solve their problems.'

Those who come leap to their feet when the Makhdoom or his brother, a senator, enters the room. They bow in respect and clasp their hands together in a traditional salaam and gesture of prayer. Some rush to kiss the hands of the two men before walking backwards out of the reception room.

Mr Fahim leads nearly 1 million devotees in the district surrounding Hala. Political analysts said most of those electors would vote for him - an important factor in the retreat of his opponents.

Mr Fahim is an ardent supporter of Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party and insists that despite his background he is a staunch supporter of the party's liberal manifesto. 'I believe in equality and fairness for everyone,' he said.

Mr Fahim's sisters, meanwhile, are hidden in purdah in the women's quarters of the house. Fearing the break-up of their lands and lacking eligible cousins as potential husbands who would not have split up the holdings, the women became 'brides of the Koran' - fated to live out their lives behind the high brick walls of the house.