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'Where is Bilawal?' PPP campaign struggles


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Supporters of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) walking past the portraits of former premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (R), father of Pakistan's slain former premier Benazir Bhutto (L), at the Bhutto's mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh. -Photo by AFP

GARHI KHUDA BAKHSH: A cancelled rally, a loathed president and a party chairman kept out of the public glare because of Taliban threats — Gulzar Ali Khawaja has never seen anything like it.

For the first time in his life, the once ardent supporter of the Pakistan People's Party, which led the coalition government for five years, says he won't be voting in the general election on May 11 and doesn't mince his words about why.

Furious, with his face red under the hot sun, he cannot believe that no major party leader addressed the crowds on one of the most sacrosanct dates — the anniversary of the April 4, 1979 hanging of PPP founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

“I come here all the way from Karachi to pray on the anniversary and they can't come?” said the 45-year-old property dealer, who drove nine hours from Pakistan's financial capital to the Bhutto ancestral seat in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh.

“President Asif Ali Zardari has spoiled the party,” he said.

The PPP announced it would kickstart its campaign for re-election after five years in office with a large rally on April 4, but then cancelled it.

Zardari, Bhutto's widower, and their son, Bilawal, addressed a small gathering, closed to all but state media, in the middle of the night.

Bilawal, the PPP's star attraction, appeared uncomfortable, speaking haltingly in heavily accented Urdu, a mark of his upbringing in England and Dubai.

He stumbled through the outgoing government's achievements before asking listeners to “promise” to vote for “Aunty Faryal” — Zardari's sister — who is contesting the Bhutto family seat.

Few party faithful who gathered at the shrine were impressed.

“Bilawal should not listen to anyone and come out into the public to see the workers as his mother and grandfather did,” Khawaja told AFP.

In contrast, their main rivals, cricket star Imran Khan and frontrunner former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, have kicked off major campaigns drawing tens of thousands.

PPP spokesman and former cabinet minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told AFP that the party respected people's desire to see Bilawal but said the danger was too great.

“We can't expose Bilawal to the real threat of terrorism. We can't risk the life of another top leader,” he said.

The Taliban have directly threatened the PPP and its main coalition partners, the ANP and MQM, often described as “secular”.

During Pakistan's last election campaign, Benazir defied repeated threats to address enormous rallies across the country.

When she was killed in a gun and suicide attack after an election rally in Rawalpindi in 2007, it shocked the party and the country.

Aged 24, Bilawal is chairman of the party but ineligible to run for office until his 25th birthday in September. Analysts say he appears uncomfortable in public and needs to work hard on improving his language skills.

Zardari, said to be deeply paranoid about security, is also rarely seen in public. He remains deeply unpopular over a multitude of corruption allegations.

“We want Bilawal to come here, to see us, to talk to us and address the workers' problems. We miss the love and affection of his mother and grandfather,” says Muhammad Urs, 41, who sells snacks in the Garhi Khuda Bakhsh market.

Urs, a life-time PPP voter, threatened not to cast his ballot “until they come and talk to us”.

But the PPP's Kaira dismissed big rallies as winners of elections, instead pointing to television and the Internet to reach larger audiences, even though the percentage that has regular online access is tiny.

“We believe that our message is going all over,” he said.

But Muhammad Panah Soomro, a labourer in the village of Bangaldero, not far from the Bhutto shrine, is furious.

“I will show them my shoe if they will come here to seek my vote,” he told AFP. The roof of his two-room house was blown off by heavy rain and he has no money to replace it.

“Bilawal doesn't come here. He's a rich man and lives abroad. His father is the biggest goon and has looted away his mother's party and wealth,” said Soomro.

Critics point out that the PPP has presided over the country as the economy has worsened and security has deteriorated and they blame it for failing to do more to improve people's lives.

They say that a dynastic party, obsessed with the martyrdom of its fallen leaders and pilloried for corruption and incompetency, is losing touch with the centre-left progressive ideology on which it was founded in the 1960s.

Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a social sciences lecturer at Lahore University of Management Sciences, says that despite the security threat restricting PPP rallies, candidates have been campaigning well at the grassroots level.

“I expect them to put a good show. It's not possible to predict now how big a victory they will gain and whether they will form the next government or not, but I think they will get good results.”

Comments (31) Closed

Fayzee Apr 07, 2013 08:55am
"Good results"!! my foot.
Shak Apr 07, 2013 09:35am
PPP is on a new course now. It's all Faryal, Asif and the other unknown Zardaris who will be emerging. The Bhutto martyrdom may not have quite come to an end yet. Watch out Bilawal. This dynasty greed is brutal.
khalidmurad1 Apr 07, 2013 10:03am
Till Zardari is alive Zardari Bhutto will never be the actual chairman. He will have to be either Zardari or Bhutto.
Vigilant Apr 07, 2013 10:34am
i hope we can get rid of this dead-bodies politics
khanm Apr 07, 2013 12:06pm
We (Can
A Khan Apr 07, 2013 12:55pm
Vote for MQM only.......stay united
Malick Apr 07, 2013 01:41pm
sure ppp wins
Kader Khan Apr 07, 2013 02:47pm
It took Imran Khan & his party 12 years to reach to the top level of leadership in Pakistan. How can you expect a 24 year old chairman of the party of the land lords who doesn't connect with his own party workers to bring a change in the country. One thing stands him out is that he is not on the same page with his dad on ticket & seat allotment to the candidates as what is learned from recent press & media and if this is true then may be after 10 or 12 years he can project imself for party's top slot only if he connects with public.
farid Apr 07, 2013 03:46pm
Dream on boy.
farid Apr 07, 2013 03:47pm
Small minds are closed and think of themselves.
farid Apr 07, 2013 03:48pm
I agree , According to your definition in this election Imran is the only leader in Pakistan.
farid Apr 07, 2013 03:49pm
farid Apr 07, 2013 03:54pm
I am delighted to see the fall of PPP, the party of feudal lords , Vaderas, malik, Nawabs etc. On occasions people and Imran himself compares himself with Bhutto, in my opinion a wrong assumption. Imran is one of us , the son of land who has done a lot for this country despite little resources.
Irfan Butt Apr 07, 2013 04:28pm
It is time to reject the establhment politicians. PTI all the way. Brav Imran Khan.
SHRi Apr 07, 2013 05:09pm
I don't understand why people expects foreign players to visit Pakistan when Bilawal Bhutto himself is hesitating to appear in front of public.
Imtiaz Apr 07, 2013 05:27pm
What a leader! Afraid for his life, unable to reach out to his own people, prefers to work from inside his bunker. Why on earth does he want to lead? Just because he has inherited political mantle from his mommy? What a joke. There is another leader who hides in London and afraid to be amongst his own people fearing for his life. What has happened to us? How can intelligent people accept this nonsense.
S. A. M. Apr 07, 2013 10:44pm
A PUN RIGHT AT THE START the picture of late benazir and zulfiqar look exactly like what ppp presently is - a PUZZLE. It seems that part of a puzzle were put together to make the pics of benazir and zulfiaqr.
SAR Apr 07, 2013 11:42pm
PTI is the only hope for change, we have seem all others....
Bakka Apr 08, 2013 03:15pm
Brother either you are dreaming or (with respect) on drugs. Wake up, a wind of change is coming.
BEA Apr 08, 2013 03:16pm
Bhutto Jr is running scared.
Alam Khan Apr 08, 2013 05:23pm
Let me put my personal note. Once Z.A. Bhutto was expectected to visit Dr. Fazal e Rahim's residence which was located opposite to Lady griffith College Peshawar Dubgari. We few friends escaped from school to see Z.A.Bhutto (i believe it was 1968 or 1969). When are in grade 8 or 9 at that time. When we went there, girls inside the school were chanting slogans in favor of Bhutto and he had not arrived yet. We waited there and saw few cars came and Z.A. Bhutto came out of car. I still remember like it was yesterday. he was tall man and shaking hands with young people around him. I was standing in his back and unintentiaonally held his shoulders from the back and kissed him on hi neck from the back. This was happened so quickily and without even thinking what ia doing. His shoulders were pretty muscular and I still remember nivea cream smell from his face when i kissed him. My friends were shocked on my this emotional gesture for him but I truly loved him. I could not sleep the night when he was hanged. But now I think that PPP is no more and it is Imran who can change the lives of the people of Pakistan
Amjad Wyne Apr 08, 2013 05:37pm
The title says, "Where is Bilawal?" I think he is at home waiting for the time when he could be appointed the king. His demands are small - just the kingdom and nothing else - that is all he is asking for and nothing more - after all that is how his father received the throne too.
Abdullah Hussain Apr 08, 2013 06:13pm
In my opinion nothing can help PPP in the current election. It seems voters are in a very different & aggressive mood. PPP did not deliver much in the last five years in power.
gangadin Apr 08, 2013 08:03pm
Feel sorry for the guy. He is a goner.
Mustafa Apr 09, 2013 01:12am
All Pakistani parties including PPP are winners if Pakistanis achieve peace and stability. But this can only be achieved not by "Iron Lady" like Margarette Thatcher who improved United Kingdom but by the "Iron Man" Pervez Musharraf who once improved Pakistan and has come forward again to improve Pakistan. May Allah create more Parvez Musharrafs to save Pakistan and create stability in Pakistan.
malik Apr 09, 2013 04:20am
I dont see an iota of secularism left in PPP. On the contrary they try to be religious and bend to the religioius zealots all the time.Youtube is still bocked under the pretext of blasphemy, murderer of salman is still alive, his son still not found and the state celebrated an official hooligan day to lambast the socalled blasphemy in which people were allowed to kill and plunder openly,
Mustafa Apr 09, 2013 05:39am
There are still some leaders in Pakistan who wish to run the government of Pakistan as family affair where "Raja ka beta Raja aur Ghulam ka beta Ghulam" (a ruler's son should be the ruler and a slave's son should be slave". It sounds like a joke but the fact is the mentality of many people has not changed.
Tariq Apr 09, 2013 05:56am
for the moment no leader has ability to change the economic and law & order situation in Pakistan.
Junaid Hashmat Apr 09, 2013 06:54am
Learn leadership from IK :)
Ashraf Sattar Apr 09, 2013 07:04am
2013 elections are without "Bhutto's, now its the Zardari's and Talpur's (Asif, Bilawal and Faryal) controlling PPP, In 2008 elections there was a strong Bhutto sentiments bec of Benazir Shahdat, and as the saying goes in rural Sindh "sar (head) Pir saeen ka, vote Bhutto saeen ka", last elections PPP 124 got seats, this time they can hardly manage 40 or 50 seats, but the elections 2018 PPP would be history, if Zardari still control PPP but if sobre people like Raza Rabbani takes control than the story can be bright for future of PPP
Dr. Abdullah Kamran Apr 09, 2013 07:29am
I totally agree with Imtiaz, and it is the tragedy we are hit by. One in London, others in bunkers, yet others in safe havens, and the blind followers - targeted and killed at a rate of 10 to 15 on daily basis - yet prefer to follow them with all emotion and enthusiasm, expecting a lot, getting nothing. Nothing will change unless the masses change their attitude. This is the testimony of The Quran as well. People must throw these usurpers of power overboard, and must support positive, constructive, sincere, may be poor, may be less popular, type of people to get rid of the clutches of these monsters.