PPP mired in generational rift

Bilawal jets off to Dubai leaving party campaign midway

Our Correspondent November 24, 2023


A seemingly simmering in-house duel in the Bhutto-Zardari family thrust to the forefront on Friday after PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s crusade against the “old guard” cropped up in his own household, fuelling speculations about rifts with his father who remains unconvinced of his son’s tender political muscles.

While Bilawal’s call to push aside old politicians in favour of a new guard has been making headlines, a parallel generational clash seemed to have boomeranged on the family, with rumour mill in overdrive after the young Bhutto scion jetted off to Dubai.

The sudden departure apparently was precipitated by his father and former president Asif Ali Zardari’s remarks that his son had not politically come of age fully.

The media reports that Bilawal hastily flew to Dubai without prior notice to party leadership connected the dots. Interestingly, Bilawal’s move to change his ‘X’ profile picture to one depicting his mother, Benazir Bhutto, did not go unnoticed either.

Observers pointed out that the seemingly innocuous change of photo coincided with Zardari's mention in the interview that it was Benazir who had entrusted him reins of party affairs.

However, while the party vehemently downplayed the conjectures, party sources maintained that Zardari’s interview was not intended to undercut his son’s authority. Rather, the strategic move was a calculated step aimed at mending fences with powers that be.

Read Bilawal dials up rhetoric against ‘the old guard’

It is noteworthy that the interview echoed Bilawal's own rhetoric in recent times. The young PPP leader has persistently advocated for a generational shift in Pakistani politics, urging older politicians to step aside and pave the way for fresh faces in the upcoming general elections.

The former foreign minister’s impassioned speeches in the National Assembly have often called for senior leaders like his father and PML-N's Nawaz Sharif to make decisions that facilitate a more conducive political landscape for the younger generation. He has tied PML-N leaders in with those he framed as being out of touch with the country's masses.

'Not an isolated incident'

However, Zardari’s Thursday interview highlighting differences between the father and son isn't an isolated incident. Before this, he had issued a statement expressing confidence in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and refuting rumours of favouritism by the electoral body – a stance that contradicted his son's and the party's stance advocating for a level playing field in elections.

Even prior to that, there was a clear divergence in the stances taken by the two father-son duo regarding elections. While Bilawal has consistently called for elections within 90 days, his father, Zardari, has defended ECP’s decision to postpone elections citing the need for delimitation.

Interestingly, back in September, Zardari voluntarily assumed the responsibility, following approval by the PPP's CEC meeting, to tackle concerns about a fair electoral environment. However, his recent outright denial of any complaints about favouritism from his own party, after two months in that role, defied logic.

The swirling rumours have prompted party leaders, from spokesperson Faisal Kareem Kundi to Senator Sherry Rehman to come to the forefront to dispel the impression of any rift between the father and son and to clarify that Bilawal had actually flown to Dubai a day earlier on Thursday after completing his K-P tour prior to the said interview.

Read More  Zardari envisions 'national unity govt' post elections

Later, on Friday, the party also revealed that even Asif Ali Zardari had left for Dubai.

Party Central Punjab Acting President Rana Farooq Saeed said that slain PPP leader Benazir Bhutto’s sister Sanam Bhutto was also in Dubai. The meetup was a family affair.

He said both Bilawal and Zardari would return by the 29th of this month.

 ‘Embarrassing for Bilawal’

Meanwhile, a party leader, on the condition of anonymity, said that Asif Ali Zardari’s interview, despite its positive intent, was embarrassing for his son, who wants to lead the party from the forefront.

"The backstage whispers suggested Zardari's interview, despite positive intentions, might have bruised Bilawal's aspirations to lead the party."

This interview without any doubt undercut his authority, the leader said. These statements from Zardari were not accidental or made without awareness; they were a deliberate and controlled manoeuvre, he added.

The purpose, he claimed, was to control the potential damage of Bilawal’s aggressive style of politics.

Asked as to how criticising one’s political rivals can be seen as an aggressive style of politics; he clarified that when one’s opponent happens to be someone blue-eyed then even criticising them can have consequences. He also dispelled the impression of any “good cop bad cop” impression.

The party leader further clarified that Zardari’s politics is for the benefit of his son. Therefore, any critique directed towards Bilawal by Zardari should not be misconstrued as indicative of a rift between them.

Nevertheless, he did admit that political differences between the two were nothing new. Though, this time, a damage control exercise was a need of the hour. He said that Zardari did not want his son to become “Moonis Elahi part two”.

Read More: Bilawal slams ‘traditional politics of electables’

The style of politics pursued by Bilawal was perceived as potentially risking the party's standing, even within Sindh, according to the source. Zardari's intentions were not solely focused on safeguarding his son's prospects but also on securing the future of the party.

He said that Zardari’s interview was not meant for the general public; rather, it was tailored for a specific audience.

PPP leaders Faisal Kareem Kundi and Shazia Marri were not available for comments.

Meanwhile, party insiders revealed that the schedule for Bilawal Zardari's visits to Punjab province and other regions is anticipated to be unveiled on December 7. His return from Dubai is slated for Monday.

There are expectations that both Bilal Bhutto Zardari and Asif Ali Zardari will address the party's Youm-e-Tasees (founding day) rally in Quetta.

Addressing speculations, sources within the party vehemently denied any rift between Bilawal and Zardari.

The sources highlighted that Asif Ali Zardari's interview aired at 7 o'clock, whereas Bilawal had already departed for Dubai by 6 o'clock.



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