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PPP seeks Benazir successor

There are many contenders in the fray for the top job in the Pakistan People's Party, reports Amit Baruah.

world Updated: Dec 29, 2007 23:26 IST
Amit Baruah

After Benazir, who? That's the central question before the Pakistan People's Party founded by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto: a party his daughter, Benazir, has led with great energy since her father was hanged on the orders of General Zia-ul-Haq in April 1979.

It was a near-perfect solution for Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf as civilian President, a new Army Chief in Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and a Prime Minister-to-be-for-the-third time: Benazir Bhutto.

But Thursday's assassination of the Daughter of the East has ruined all that. Not only is Pakistan in turmoil, the PPP looks rudderless at the moment with its lifetime chairperson Benazir gone.

It has been a family-driven party, much like some of its cousins in South Asia. There are many contenders in the fray for the top job in the PPP: deputy leader Makhdoom Fahim, leading lawyer Aitazaz Ahsan, husband Asif Ali Zardari and sister Sanam Bhutto.

Son Bilawal Bhutto is in another league. Should the youngster display an appetite for politics, the PPP is his for the taking. There will be no other challenger to Bilawal.

He might, of course, need a regent or political manager in the interim.

Bilawal is set to read out a statement, or will, reportedly left behind by his mother about the future direction of the leader in Larkana on Sunday. That will set at rest all speculation about the PPP and its future leader. Let's look at all the other contenders one-by-one:

Makhdoom Fahim:

Led the party in Benazir's absence from the country from 1999 to October 2007. A Benazir loyalist, Fahim is the quintessential party man, who never wavered in his loyalties towards his leader in all these years. Has a good shot at the leadership. Was in the same vehicle as Benazir at the time she was assassinated.

Aitazaz Ahsan:

Possibly the most popular PPP leader in the country, he is one of Pakistan's leading lawyers. Currently in detention. Ahsan is from the Punjab and won the hearts and minds of ordinary Pakistanis during the time he represented "suspended" Chief Justice Ifthekar Muhammad Chaudhry. Ahsan is a good speaker and was leader of the opposition in the Pakistani parliament. Was not allowed to attend Benazir's funeral in Garhi Khuda Baksh by the military regime despite asking for permission. His Punjabi lineage can only help the PPP garner votes in the most important province of Punjab.

Sanam Bhutto:

The only surviving sibling of Benazir, Sanam has shown extreme reluctance to take to the path of politics. There have been previous occasions when her name was mentioned as possible leader of the party, especially when Benazir chose to go into self-exile in 1999 after being pushed to the corner in corruption cases.

Asif Ali Zardari:

Benazir's husband has been a minister in the previous PPP government and is regarded by many analysts as a possible successor. However, it's possible that he might not like to take on the leadership mantle directly, but rule through a weak proxy.