A time to quit

By Sabur Ali Sayyid
March 22, 2023

After dominating the political scene for years, the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, retired voluntarily last month shocking fans and critics alike. In February this year, Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern also stood down despite enjoying huge support for her pro-people policies and progressive stance on explosive global issues.


Should politicians eventually hang up their boots? The answer to this can be found in the farewell speeches made by Sturgeon and Arden who both emphasized separately that politicians are also human — neither endowed with boundless energy nor enjoying any divine sanction not to relinquish power even in the favour of more young, dynamic and forward-looking aspirants.

To help their new lot reach the power echelons, developed countries have over the years shaped up different traditions and ethical practices which today stand as almost inviolable. After serving at the highest positions, politicians mostly sideline themselves for the new leadership to step in.

In other cases, they leave the arena should they receive a setback on some policy issue or be faced with the question of transparency and professional integrity. Suffice it to mention here that Boris Johnson resigned as prime minister after losing the confidence of his own party in 2022 whereas the prime ministers of Iceland and Ukraine stepped down after their names appeared in the Panama Leaks in 2016.

Pakistan has unfortunately very little, if any, to cherish on this count. The top leadership of almost every political party here is in its mid-sixties or early seventies at the moment but disinclined to hand over the baton to anyone else. A viral picture of the heads of two political parties meeting each other in Islamabad in wheelchairs tells it all.

Pakistan has arguably reached the point where civil society in particular must mount pressure on some of the more older politicians to voluntarily retire in favour of their younger lot. This one single step will go a long way in democratizing the ‘democratic parties’ in the country and loosen the iron grip of dynastic control over them. On top of that, it will infuse a sense of urgency in the top leadership of political parties to deliver in concrete terms before reaching the age of superannuation. The hysterical efforts by each outgoing US president to leave behind a lasting legacy at the end of his second term are rooted in the ‘one last time’ syndrome.

The world today has many post-retirement models for politicians to contribute towards major national and international causes in a bipartisan and effective manner.

Jimmy Carter and Al Gore of the US stand out in this regard; they are in fact revered more for giving an excellent model of post-presidential and vice-presidential life. Suffice it to mention here that the Carter Center, established by Jimmy Carter in 1982, is working in more than eighty countries at the moment and has contributed remarkably in the areas of human rights, education, health, and peacebuilding.

Similarly, Al Gore has worked hard to foster awareness on global warming. In 2005, he established The Climate Reality Project, a non-governmental organization, to find a solution to the climate crisis worldwide. In recognition of his untiring efforts for climate protection, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

As a second career, retiring politicians may collectively launch a mass movement to ensure access of the over 23 million out-of-school children to educational institutes in the country. A Unicef report in this regard must shake them out of the inertia — that 44 per cent of the total population of children aged 5-16 are out of school in Pakistan and will for sure grow up as an underprivileged class unless some extraordinary steps are taken to enroll them.

Pakistan is one of those few Muslim countries where inheritance rights of women are respected more in breach than in dispensation. The whole power structure in society would stand changed upside down if they become a norm, rather than an exception. Pakistan is yet to witness towering figures devote themselves to the actualization of such highly inspiring teachings of Islam to empower women in society.

If older politicians shifted their entire focus to social mobilization, they would be helping this country fix at least some of the issues that lie at the heart of its failure to catch up with the rest of the world. Leaving behind a lasting legacy asks for total selflessness and sincerity of purpose. Can they catch this moment by the forelock?

The writer is an Islamabad-based researcher with a special interest in India, Pakistan and regional affairs. He can be reached at: