In the run-up to the elections, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) brought out its trump card – the Bhutto brand name.
The party’s 24-year-old chairman and the only son of slain premier Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal, delivered his first major public address on his mother’s fifth death anniversary in Garhi Khuda Bux, Larkana, and vowed to continue her fight for democracy.
“Bhutto is not just a name, it is an obsession, a passion, a love,” he cried to a 200,000-strong audience gathered in the shadow of the gleaming domes of the white marble family mausoleum.
“Today, I am among martyrs,” declared Bilawal. “My grandfather is with me. My mother is with me. The thousands of workers who sacrificed their lives for democracy are with me. They are alive in our hearts and will remain alive forever.”
Defending the PPP’s record
In what appeared to be a much-practised speech, the young chairman attempted a stout defence of his party’s contentious performance over the past five years. “This process will be complete when everyone will have a job, everyone will be educated and have health coverage, and everyone has ‘Roti, Kapra and Makan’,” said Bilawal. As expected, he mentioned the party’s flagship welfare Benazir Income Support Programme.
And as his father, President Zardari, and indeed other party leaders have reiterated in the past, Bilawal too trained the spotlight on what they call their legislative achievements. Today, parliament is independent in making its decisions and the provinces are free and more independent, he said. The 1973 Constitution has been restored as closely as possible to its original form.
The PPP government’s economic policies were defended. Despite a recession, Pakistan’s banking system has remained intact while many banks in the world collapsed, he said. Despite terrorism, the economy has been improving – exports have increased to $25 billion.
“We were forced to buy wheat in 2008 but are now exporting wheat; inflation has reduced from 25% to 9% in the last four years,” he said, by way of example.
His speech would not have been complete without mention of the party’s stance on terrorism and Bilawal referred to his party as a “strong wall” against the scourge when the PPP’s opponents did not even talk about it.
“I ask you (the terrorists): are you happy after the attacks?” he asked, referring to the recent attacks on Malala Yousafzai and Bashir Bilour. The familiar Bhutto refrain was given a new ‘awami’ or populist twist by roping in those names: When one Bilour is martyred, many Bilours will emerge. If one Malala is attacked, many more Malalas will fight for their rights; when Benazir is martyred, many more Benazirs will emerge, he said to a round of resounding applause.
And, in a refreshing move, he also tendered an apology to the Baloch people.
As he has said in the past, Bilawal once again hit out at the judiciary. Party workers were waiting for a decision on his mother’s murder case and the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto reference, he said.
The courts are taking notice of issues such as the price of electricity, sugar and CNG but these cases are still pending.
Delivering the last speech of the evening, President Zardari said: “It is a happy day and a sad day.”
Locking arms with his son and waving to the crowd, he went on: “Bilawal has completed his studies, but the time has now come to complete his political training, to stay in Pakistan among its people and learn from them.”
It certainly signalled that much work lay ahead. For even Bilawal’s last words were: “Our journey doesn’t stop here. The caravan will continue.” He cannot, however, contest the upcoming elections scheduled for the spring as the minimum age is 25. He will turn 25 in September next year. The only option right now if for him to lead the party in parliament after a by-election.
Nonetheless he will be able to cut his political teeth in the preparation for the elections. “There will be a caretaker setup for three months,” said Zardari. “We will make that set-up with the consensus of the opposition, and that it will have no political agenda.”
But the PPP could not help but dwell on the past. “The Asghar Khan case disclosed the truth,” said Zardari. “Benazir Bhutto said the elections of 1990 were stolen and this was proven.”
But then, he stressed that political parties must participate. “Despite the fact that the elections results of 1990 were manipulated, we participated again and here we are today.” The message, it seems, was that the democratic process must continue no matter what.
After the gathering and speeches, the president and Bilawal co-chaired a meeting of the party’s central decision-making body at President House in Naudero late Thursday night.
The committee welcomed Bilawal upon his entry into active politics and expressed their commitment to support him.
Information Minister Qamaruz Zaman Kaira said that a caretaker government would be brought in when the assemblies complete their term by May 16 and the elections will be held within 60 days after that.
The committee was also briefed by former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the new provinces in the Punjab.
According to sources, he told it about the stumbling blocks for the creation of a province in south Punjab and the controversy on making Bahawalpur or Multan the provincial capital. With additional input from Irfan Ghauri in Islamabad and agencies
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2012.