President Asif Ali Zardari announced this week that his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will take up some “political responsibility” this September. But PPP leaders told The Express Tribune that Bilawal will not be jumping headfirst into politics and will first learn the workings of the party inside-out.
According to PPP Member of National Assembly (MNA) and the president’s media adviser Farahnaz Ispahani, while Bilawal is already familiar with the party structure and leadership, the new move will see him being involved with the party in an organised manner.
Ispahani said that PPP General Secretary Jahangir Badar will take Bilawal under his wing and he will be working with senior provincial leaders, such as current Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah.
“Bilawal has specifically expressed interest in the party’s youth wing, which was very dear to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto,” she said. “He will be looking into modernising the Peoples Youth Organisation, and bringing in new ideas, media technology etc through intellectual and practical exercises.”
Bilawal, who turns 23 this September, is two years away from being eligible to run for a provincial or national assembly seat. However, the PPP believes that the idea is not for Bilawal to jump into politics by contesting elections, but to spend time learning about the party.
“He is a keen learner,” said Ispahani. “He has spent time travelling here and meeting party leaders and members. He listens and he takes his time with making comments on issues.”
While Bilawal has attracted criticism for being the newest symbol of dynasty politics in the subcontinent, he garnered praise for his stance on the assassinations of former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and former Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti.
Bilawal, who graduated from Oxford University last year, could emerge as PPP’s much-needed progressive voice, given what appears to be his interest in social issues and stance on minorities.
The timing of the announcement is worth noting. The PPP, like all other political parties, is looking at the 2013 elections. While it managed to win a large number of seats in the 2008 elections, observers noted that the party also won the sympathy vote in the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. By working with the youth wing, Bilawal could possibly galvanise young voters and Bhutto family loyalists.
“He seems to have a natural talent for public speaking. It’s impossible to not have goose bumps when hearing him. In terms of sustaining the family legacy in Sindh, Bilawal has that natural appeal as Benazir’s son which Zardari can never have,” remarked analyst Mosharraf Zaidi.
While his late mother, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, faced opposition from the party’s old guard when she returned to Pakistan, Ispahani said this would not be an issue for Bilawal. “There is a great deal of love for the children,” she said. “Benazir’s house in Dubai always had PPP leaders visiting and the children know most of them very well. When he was voted as chairperson by the Central Executive Committee, it was done with the understanding that he would lead the party but would spend time learning and working for it.”
Bilawal’s sisters, Bakhtawar and Asifa, have also taken on public roles, but there appears to be no move yet to assign them political responsibilities. The three have met key foreign leaders with President Zardari. Bilawal will be leading a PPP delegation to China this summer before he starts working with the party in the fall.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2011.
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