A vast political legacy in the past, a complicated presidential term for his father in the present and a high-pressure general election in the near future – Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s official debut on December 27, 2012 contains all the elements of a thrilling political saga.
Bilawal’s entry into mainstream politics is being closely observed and has received mixed reactions from journalists, analysts and experts.
Senior journalist Quatrina Hussain is a vehement critic of dynasty politics but acknowledges that in South Asia, it is part of the package.
“Even if he isn’t ready, he doesn’t have a choice. If you are born a Bhutto or a Gandhi, you don’t have a choice,” she says. She adds that despite his grooming by both parents, Bilawal still has a steep learning curve ahead of him.
Veteran journalist and executive editor for The Express Tribune, Mohammed Ziauddin also shares the same opinion. He states that Bilawal’s entry is reminiscent of sub continental tradition, as most Indian states in the north and south are still ruled by the same families, generation after generation.
While Bilawal appears to be well educated, he is still an “unknown entity” Ziauddin emphasizes, and therefore little is known or can be predicted about his understanding of complex political nuances.
Senior journalist Kamran Shafi also feels that it is too soon to predict the changes it might bring within the PPP. However, he praised Bilawal’s strong and clear stance against terrorism.
“He seems intelligent, aware and brave enough to ‘call a spade a spade’, which is always a welcome change,” says Shafi.
With Bilawal’s launch, the Bhutto name will reclaim its position at the PPP forefront, which has been acknowledged as critical by all the experts.
“It is a political party that runs on Bhutto’s name,” said Shafi.
Hussain also feels that Bilawal’s entry might also smooth things for President Zardari, who has been facing pressure by the Supreme Court to retain only one position, either as president of Pakistan, or PPP co-chairman.
“It will shift the pressure away from Mr Zardari to President Zardari. With Bilawal’s formal introduction, major party affairs and decisions will be conducted by Bilawal but still be backed by Zardari,” she says, emphasizing Zardari’s central role in the party despite a shift of reins.
Shafi also agrees that Bilawal’s entry will have no major impact on Zardari’s standing within the party.
“People look at him as Benazir’s widower, or the First Man, but they tend to forget that he has always been a politician in his own right and will stay there,” he says.
However, Ziauddin feels that there might be potential personality clashes between father and son whose disposition and up bringing are worlds apart.
While Bilawal is an Oxford graduate, strictly groomed by his mother for the most part of his life, President Zardari is not highly educated and has always been a free spirit and street smart as far as politics is concerned.
“Power has always created problems, even in blood relations. There is a huge generation gap and both of them will go through a long sailing, which will not be an easy process,” he predicts.
While Yousuf Raza Gilani is being cited as a favorite for Zardari’s replacement as PPP co-chairperson, Hussain predicts that Bilawal might soon become the sole chairperson for the party.
While all these predictions will have to bear the test of time, one thing can be said with utmost certainty – the world will be watching very closely as this young political novice assumes a central position in one of the oldest and largest political parties in the country.