Heir to Bhutto dynasty seeking revival in Pakistan’s election

Pakistan‘s only major left-leaning political party is fighting for its electoral relevance and to preserve the legacy of the country’s best-known political dynasty weeks before the country heads to the polls.

In his first election campaign, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the scion of the storied Bhutto family who now heads the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is attempting to recapture the support his mother, two-time former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) speaks during a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan. File Photo | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Party leaders insist the 29-year-old Bhutto, – brings a fresh new appeal to the party as it attempts to revive its waning fortunes in a general election called for July 25.

“With Bilawal in the frontline of our campaign we hope to see a huge swathe of young people join us in our journey to turn back the tide of extremism, misgovernance, and anti-democratic trends,” PPP Senator Sherry Rehman has said.

Whether his father, former President Asif Ali Zardari, will be an asset or an obstacle in that effort remains a source of keen debate in Islamabad.

Some analysts and party insiders say Zardari’s tainted image, the result of numerous corruption allegations, could cost the party at the polls.

On the other hand, the most likely route back to power could be a post-election alliance with the charismatic Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Infasf (PTI), which has seemingly eclipsed the PPP in the past five years.

Once the country’s most popular party, the PPP finds itself on the brink of political irrelevance at the national level, and analysts believe it is more likely to be Zardari’s ability to cut a deal, rather than his son’s populist rhetoric, that will keep the party afloat.

“MR TEN PERCENT”

Zardari spent a total of 11 years in jail on charges of corruption and murder, though he was never convicted of any of the offenses for which he was held and has always maintained his innocence. He was released in 2004 after an eight-year stretch behind bars.,

Bhutto was assassinated on the campaign trail three months after her return in a suicide attack, the tragic saga adding to the Bhutto family’s status as a Pakistani equivalent of America’s Kennedys and India’s Gandhi.

In a wave of popular support that was generated by Benazir Bhutto’s return and continued after her assassination, the PPP swept to power and Zardari found himself wielding considerable power from the president’s office.

While all the allegations against him were ultimately dismissed, and despite overseeing the country’s first transition of power by a civilian government, Zardari retains a tainted reputation,

“I think Asif Zardari has been a victim of massive negative propaganda against him,” former PPP senator Farathullah Babarhas said.

KINGMAKER

The run-up to the election has been dominated by allegations that the powerful military has been attempting to destabilize the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), paving the way to power for cricketer-turn-politician Khan’s PTI.

“We are seeing pre-poll election manipulation where people from all political parties are going and joining one political party,” former PPP senator Babar said.

PML-N insiders say Sharif’s relationship with Pakistan’s powerful generals is in tatters and Sharif himself recently alluded to the military pressuring PML-N lawmakers and pushing them to abandon the party or join PTI.

PPP leaders say their campaign, fronted by Bilawal Bhutto, will focus on battling extremism and intolerance in a country scarred by more than a decade of militant Islamist violence.

“The People’s Party is going to forcefully and emphatically distinguish itself as the party that believes that in the state of Pakistan we must … not distinguish or discriminate between the adherents of any religion,” Senator Aitzaz Ahsan said.

 

Also read: Regaining the Lost Space: Pakistan Army’s New Doctrine to Pursue Old Policies

REUTERS

Sania Ehsan

The Kootneeti Team - South Asian Monitor

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