Brand Bhutto. The family name. That’s what the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has opted for at its meeting in Naudero, Larkana, on Sunday. Why? Because the name “sells” in the electoral bazaar. The party also signalled it would contest the January 8 elections despite the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
The expected combination of Bilawal (now Bhutto) Zardari as chairman of the PPP and Asif Ali Zardari as co-chairman was announced. Long-time Benazir loyalist Mahkhdoom Amin Fahim will continue as the party’s vice-chairman.
There’s little doubt that the PPP sees the election as its best shot at power in the last 10 years. They hope to capitalise on the martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto to return to office after her second government was dismissed by then President Farooq Leghari in 1996.
In a country like Pakistan, where family and feudal loyalties coalesce, the magic of the Bhutto family name, much like the Gandhis in India, has considerable resonance among ordinary people.
That the PPP’s central executive committee met in Naudero, the family home of the Bhuttos, points to one central fact: that family, tribal and provincial loyalties are key.
Benazir’s father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, pitched the PPP as a champion of the poor and despite all the problems associated with his leadership, the PPP remains the only real political party in the country.
At his press conference, Zardari, or the “Prince Regent” as christened by leading Pakistani analyst Ayaz Amir, has stressed that the party will continue to work for the poor.
Zardari, who spent nearly eight years in jail, while Benazir was away in self-exile in Dubai and London, also made it clear that he was pitching for the Punjab vote. He along with Bilawal pointed out that the private security personnel who died in the assassination plot were all Punjabis.
Anyone who knows Pakistan is aware that to win the National Assembly election, the Pakistani Punjab with its loaded vote share in the federation must vote for you. Without the Punjab, you cannot occupy the gaddi in Islamabad.
Provincial distrust runs high in Pakistan, especially resentment among Sindhis, Baluchis and Urdu-speaking Mohajirs that they are less than equal citizens of Pakistan.
When former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was sent into exile to Saudi Arabia in 2000 following a deal with General Pervez Musharraf, many heaved a sigh of relief that he had been spared the fate of Benazir’s father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
But others pointed out that while a Punjabi General (Zia-ul-Haq) had sent Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to the gallows in April 1979, the life of a former Punjabi Prime Minister (Sharif) had been spared by a Mohajir General (Pervez Musharraf). It reflects the power of Punjab and the Punjabis.
The decision to go ahead with the elections will come as a major relief to the Americans and Musharraf’s other Western allies: they wanted the polls to go ahead as scheduled. They seem to have had their way.
It will also help the Musharraf regime to some extent since the military is keen that the elections should go ahead. Analysts also believe that the Americans have been working on Zardari to ensure that the elections go ahead despite the Benazir assassination.