ISLAMABAD // Four of Pakistan's major political parties have lined up cushy jobs and safe parliamentary seats for the scions of their leaders, a sign that the country's political dynasties remain strong.
The rise of young leaders from old platforms comes ahead of general elections, to be held no later than January 2013.
The parties undergoing dynastic succession are the Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and Pakistan People's Party (PPP).
The tradition of dynastic succession among prominent political families dates back to British colonial rule up to August 1947, analysts said.
"Like the Bush and Kennedy families, it has been naturally easy for the children of former Pakistani presidents and prime ministers to assume leadership of a ready-made political following," said Suhail Warraich, a Lahore-based political author.
"They have instant access to political grooming and power networks, so politics has become a family trade, much in the way as it is with shopkeepers."
Most prominent among the political heirs apparent is Bilawal Bhutto, the 23-year-old son of Benazir Bhutto, twice prime minister, who was assassinated in 2007. He has since co-chaired the PPP, along with his father, Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, and has frequently been tipped as a future prime minister by the incumbent, Yousaf Raza Gilani.
Mr Bhutto had largely maintained a low public profile while studying at Oxford University, his mother's alma mater, but after his recent graduation he is being readied for a political career.
Mr Zardari on Monday told party activists that Mr Bhutto would contest the next general election from Lyari, a PPP stronghold in Karachi notorious as a slum lorded over by criminal gangs allied with the party, newspapers reported.
Mr Bhutto would have reached the age of 25 at the likely election date and be eligible to contest.
He would use his anticipated first term in parliament to learn politics, rather than immediately being pitched as a prospective prime minister, the newspapers reported.
Mr Bhutto would also take personal charge of the PPP's youth wing upon returning to Pakistan in September, the reports said.
The newspapers noted that the president was overseeing a massive upgrading of Lyari's infrastructure and social services to bolster his son's candidature.
Mr Bhutto could become the fourth member of his family in as many generations to hold the post of prime minister.
It would be a risky job. Besides his mother's assassination, his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister, was executed in 1979.
He was hanged for murder, after a Supreme Court verdict widely recognised as having been manipulated by General Zia-ul-Haq, who had overthrown him two years earlier.
The young Mr Bhutto's great-grandfather, Shahnawaz Bhutto, was prime minister of the Indian princely state of Junagadh, before independence in 1947.
The Bhuttos of the PPP would outdo the Khans of Charsadda, for three generations leaders of the ANP, an ethnic Pashtun nationalist party that has dominated politics in the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa since before independence.
The chief minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Amir Haider Hoti, is a cousin of the ANP leader, Asfandyar Wali Khan.
The biggest rivalry, however, is widely expected to be between Hamza Sharif and Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, respectively the heirs of the Nawaz and Quaid factions of the PML.
Mr Hamza is the nephew of the PML-N chief, Nawaz Sharif, a former two-time prime minister. Mr Elahi is the nephew of the PML-Q chief, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, also a former prime minister.
The PML-N on Wednesday elected Hamza Sharif as general secretary of its Punjab provincial stronghold.
Mr Hamza is the son of Shahbaz Sharif, the Punjab chief minister, and has long been considered next in line because his uncle's sons are autistic.
He is one step ahead of Mr Elahi, having beaten him for a Punjab provincial assembly seat at the last general election in February 2008.
Mr Elahi is in prison fighting charges of corruption dating back to his uncle's government. But he is using the case to promote his credentials as a potential Punjab chief minister, a post previously held by his father, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, who is now a federal minister in the PPP-led coalition government.
Dynastic succession is also evident within many smaller but significant regional and religious parties.
However, many dynastic successions have failed, said Mr Warraich, who has written popular Urdu-language books about the Bhuttos and Sharifs. "Voters have shown that once they have tired of the domination of a particular dynasty, they have dumped them in favour of ordinary party activists," he said.
"Voters dumped the lot in the 1970 elections, and could well do so again in future, although it isn't imminent."
He said voters would eventually be weaned off political dynasties if Pakistan's fledgling democracy were allowed to flourish.
The country has been ruled by the military for half its 63-year history.