TALL and handsome, he resembles his illustrious grandfather. His voice evokes the memory of his courageous mother who gave her life fighting for the people’s rights. But for 24-year-old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari the mantle of leadership of the country’s most powerful political dynasty may have come too soon.

Just out of university and with little connection to the realities at home, Bilawal is now required to salvage the falling support base of the Pakistan People’s Party and lead it in the coming elections for a second term in office. An extremely arduous undertaking indeed for the young man thrust onto the political centre stage by the compulsions of dynastic politics. Can he deliver?

Unlike his mother Benazir Bhutto, whose political baptism took place fighting military dictatorship and years of solitary confinement, Bilawal was anointed more in the manner of the investiture of an heir apparent. His speech was certainly well-tutored and well-rehearsed. But, despite its fiery rhetoric, it failed to make a connection with party devotees who had thronged to the dusty field in front of the white marble mausoleum of his martyred mother and grandfather.

It was all about victimhood and alleged conspiracies against the government and less about what the party stands for. For a party that has been in power for the last five years, such rhetoric may not work to motivate the people on the eve of elections. The sympathy wave in the aftermath of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto already catapulted the party to power, and the victimhood card may not be effective again. It is what the party has done during the five years in power that really matters to the people.

Dynastic rule has dominated our politics for decades, but the elevation of Bilawal at such a young age to head the country’s largest party is unprecedented. He was chosen chairman of the PPP when just a teenager and barely out of school. It was indeed a decision taken for him and not by him. His nomination may have been dictated by the compulsion of maintaining party unity after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and a sense of entitlement.

It was also to provide legitimacy to Asif Ali Zardari’s assuming the party’s leadership that cleared the way for his election later as the country’s president. The third generation heir to the dynasty was placed under the tutelage of his father who is better known for political wheeling and dealing than for popular mass politics which has been the hallmark of the Bhuttos.

Over the next five years, Bilawal stayed in Britain finishing his studies at Oxford University completely insulated from Pakistani society. During his visits home, his activities remained restricted to the confines of the President House where he would meet party leaders and senior government officials calling on him.

It appeared surreal when elderly party stalwarts who had spent the greater part of their lives fighting for democracy were seen taking instructions from the young ‘prince’. What is most pitiable, however, is that this happened in the party which claims to be the most progressive political force in the country. This is what is often described as ‘democracy feudal style’.

Bilawal’s unelected position has not prevented President Zardari from seating his son beside himself in summit conferences and in important meetings with heads of states, in breach of all diplomatic norms. It is certainly not the kind of training the young man needed as he prepared to take his position on the centre stage of democratic politics. Such practice is unprecedented even in the dynastic political tradition prevalent in the region. This only happens in a monarchy or under a dictatorship and is certainly not expected in a democratic system.

Bilawal will be leading a party completely different from that founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto some 45 years ago or inherited by Benazir after 1981. It was a party for change and not a party of status quo as today.

A part of its ethos may still be more progressive compared to others, but it has increasingly degenerated into a family-dominated, rural-based party losing its support among the urban poor and middle classes which once formed the party’s backbone. It is now being run as a family fiefdom as its traditional mass appeal has been increasingly shrinking.

Five years in power have exposed the party’s ineptitude to provide good governance. Cronyism is at its height, and corruption has never been so endemic. The economy is in a shambles with the growth rate hovering around an abysmal three per cent for five consecutive years. Power cuts and shortage of energy have not only hit industries, but also affected lives of the common people triggering widespread discontent.

It is the first time in Pakistan’s history that a democratically elected government will be completing its full term and hopefully power will be transferred to the next elected government. The party will go into elections this time not on slogans for change, but defending its not so enviable record while in government.

There seems to be a marked change in the party’s election strategy with far greater reliance on the local influential families than on traditional party supporters. That has hugely transformed the party’s character stripping it of whatever ideological colour it had left. Some of the leaders who sat on the dais in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh spoke volumes for the changing face of the party under Zardari.

Although he is still not 25, the lower age limit to stand in elections, Bilawal is expected to spearhead the PPP’s campaign with his father in the background. It is undoubtedly going to be the toughest in the party’s history. But can he stir up the Bhutto charisma and galvanise the demoralised party voters? Will the voters warm up to the new Bhutto? This is going to be tough for an inexperienced and untested new heir to the Bhutto dynasty. For sure the party cannot rely on any sympathy wave this time.

The writer is an author and journalist.


Twitter: @hidhussain

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Comments (23)

Mashood Ahsan
January 1, 2013 9:58 pm
the huge difference is charismatic and captivating BB, She inherited party from her illustrious father and mother. Whilst Bilawal is heir apparent of Zardari
January 1, 2013 1:04 pm
Frustration is at peak in old tested political parties these days! They are utilizing everything they got at their disposal. Gone are the days when mere emotional speeches would work. Both big parties have proved how inept and incompetent they are! People should put the last nail in their political coffin through votes to build new and better Pakistan with new leadership for themselves! They, bug-like, (both old parties) have already eaten it more than ever before!
Arifa Ahsan
January 1, 2013 2:41 pm
Has destiny nothing better for this nation in store? But the scions of plunderes handsome educated whatever they may be
January 2, 2013 1:31 am
Nothing is going to change.he is being properly changed by his father and like a loyal son he will follow his father.he knows nothing about his people,about their problems and about their solutions.he is the son of zarori and will prove no less than him.
January 2, 2013 1:45 am
the piece misleads the readers quite aptly - for one Bilawal was raised by his mother not AZ who was in Jail all that time. He is now grown up enough to know right from wrong.
vijay singh ivory coast
January 1, 2013 4:12 am
bilawal will prove to be a new face in politics of pakistan.he has spirit to do something for pakistan which was quite clear from the speech on 27 th dec while declaring entry in politics.he can change the thinking of pakistan politics like rajiv gandhi changed from conventional politics in INDIA.age is no consideration and creativity is more impotant for an indiidual.
Rafiq Ahmed
January 1, 2013 3:03 pm
And then you will wake up after your dream.
January 1, 2013 2:12 pm
I am also living abroad. However, I believe that I LOVE PAKISTAN; I HATE PAKISTANI POLITICIANS WHETHER IN POWER OR NOT. I still have hopes of the sunrise.
January 1, 2013 7:28 pm
Waqar Sahib I am with you, World will run around Larkana, when larkana will be London . Our tourism will flourish , Pakistan will be no longer progressive country , Pakistan will be just like America, Last Hope for the World peace Bilawal Zardari Bhutto. just curious will he opens Bars and Clubs in Pakistan ? Long Live Bilawal Bhutto
Hassan Raza (@HRazaPK)
January 1, 2013 7:30 pm
First of all we should understand that this wasn't a policy statement - it was a political speech and his target audience were the workers of his own party. I think we'll have to concede - if we read Pakistan's political history - that Bhuttos have always been a target of the establishment and of those who support status-quo. The whole story of Bhuttos from the judicial murder of ZAB to the assassination of BB is one which has all the elements of a Greek tragedy so you can't blame him for repeating all that. Dynastic politics is a curse that is present in almost all the South and East Asian democracies and we can do nothing to change it as long as the senior leadership and the voters of that party don't have a problem with it. The whole discussion about Bhuttos get extremely polarized because politics in Pakistan has always revolved around forces who are either pro or anti Bhuttos. I think we don't need to be so critical about Bilawal. Benazir was also 24 years old in 1977 when her father was arrested and then she led a massive popular movement against one of the most brutal dictators in 80's so just give this young lad a little more time and let him prove himself.
Syed A. Zafar USA
January 1, 2013 2:53 pm
It is not 60's when things and people were simple, marshal law was dying, any change was to meet success and slogans like roti kapra aur makan played magic. Besides Bhutto did not start politics at his teens and he had charismatic personality and certain chamatkaari skills which Bilawal lacks . Although there are pretty good chances Bilawal will win the assembly seat because of family name, sympathy and dominance of PPP in certain areas. But viewing him as potential nationwide leader is unrealistic in my opinion. He, neither has leadership qualities nor grown up enough to talk sense by himself. However, any thing is possible in today's world. When people like Zia and Bush Junior can manage to lead, why can't Bilawal? But when it comes to reality, Bilawal has to grow as a man first and he should be able to walk on Liyari and streets of Peshawar without baby sitters and guards. For now he is simply an imported teenager born with silver spoon in his mouth and that is it. As I said, it is not sixties when a filthy rich feudal lord will rise with a slogan of roti, kappa aur makan and people will not realize what a waders has to do with poor people and such slogans. However if Bhuttos have delivered, chances for Bilawal to succeed would have been bright even if he had no or less potentials as as a leader. zafarsyed40@yahoo.com
January 1, 2013 3:11 pm
What planet are you on, this boy knows nothing of politics just because his mother was PM does not make him a policitian, hes just a kid whos lived abroad all his life in comfort whislt the people of his country were fighting and starveing to death, its about time Pakistan made its mind up what it wants to do This is not a Dynesty which they are making it now. kick the who family of no hopers into jail get new people in who will help Pakistan get back on its feet. What has his father done Nothing Pakistani people are getting killed every day in their own cities by there own people so much crime and curruption around hes been in power 5 years what has he done Nothing the Pakistani Taliban do as they please and Zardari who has no guts lets them getaway with it, this man has no Balls and his son has learned all from him so it is not a good thing that he wants to follow in his fathers foot steps, Wake up Pakistan and get rid of these parasites who re bleeding your country dry they will hand it over to the Taliban May God Hepl you all.
Shahid Masud12
January 1, 2013 9:07 am
God help those who help themselves.
January 1, 2013 4:36 am
God help Pakistan, I'm just happy I live abroad, feel bad for rest of my relatives stuck in Pakistan :(
January 1, 2013 8:23 am
Bilawal is NO Rahul Gandhi. His father has mutilated the image of the country abroad and home alike. He himself has a negative reputation at home and abroad. Only being handsome and educated in a foreign University does not work in Pakistan Politics. - even though his father - that Mr 10% may be helping and pushing from behind. Only the one who can deliver will survive this election and Others have more chances.
Arifa Ahsan
January 1, 2013 2:44 pm
The creativity of Bhuttos is evident from the ruinous conditions of Larkana their home town and this kid is not even a Bhutto
Pervez UK
January 1, 2013 11:37 am
Why do you people keep calling Bilawal a Bhutto , he is a Zardari , nothing is going to change that fact. His father would have passed to him , his dishonest genes .
Waqar Saleem
January 1, 2013 9:55 am
Bilawal will end corruption in Pakistan. He will transform Pakistani universities into Oxford and Larkana into London, which is quite clear from his experience with both. He can tackle air pollution in Pakistan like Brett Lee sings songs. Once he comes into power, Pakistan will regain its hockey titles, Jahangir Khan will return to dominate squash, Sui gas fields will spontaneously refill themselves, and extreme ironing enthusiasts the world over will flock to the Punjab Youth Festival to cheer for their favorite Kushti pehelvans. Qualification and training are no consideration and only imagination is important.
January 1, 2013 1:25 pm
He is not a Bhutto he is a zardari plus and this is the most important thing for the people to remmember is Apple dosent fall far from the tree!!!!.
January 1, 2013 4:09 pm
As societies transition from rural/agrarian to urban/industrial, feudal-military complex gives way to military industrial. This is happening at present in Pakistan. The military is more powerful than the feudals, so it rules, but industrialists are more powerful than the military, so they rule. Bhuttos/Zardaris have not invested in industry, but in real estate. So with Asif Zardari this dynasty is coming to an end. Expect the sons of Sharif Brothers et al to lead the pack in near future.
S Raghavan
January 1, 2013 11:17 am
In democracies across the world, history is replete with cases where sons or daughters or spouse have been suddenly catapulted to take on the reins under traumatic circumstances. Not all have been successful. Bilawal's age is a deterrent but what matters most is rectitude much more than fortitude and probity more than competence.
January 1, 2013 3:15 pm
good imagination..I'd wait to see your name on the next fictional title
Agha Ata (USA)
January 1, 2013 4:16 pm
If I were in Bilawal's shoes, I would remove his shoes.
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