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Bilawal’s digital election campaign

April 24, 2013

There were many hopes from PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for the upcoming general election – especially within the ranks of the party itself. But with security threats emerging left, right and centre for Pakistan’s ‘secular liberal’ parties – the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Awami National Party (ANP), and PPP,  and Bilawal in particular facing security concerns, the young scion of the late Benazir Bhutto has been forced to lead the polls campaign from the sidelines.

This strategy culminated in a video released on Tuesday featuring the young political leader, speaking rather haltingly about the sacrifices of the PPP, its achievements during its five-year tenure as the ruling party and the failures of the PML-N in Punjab. Although Bilawal focused on Sindh and winning votes in the party’s already established vote bank, he also spoke of Peshawar, Lahore and South Punjab (there was scarce mention of Balochistan).

The PPP’s strategy of using Bilawal’s ‘Bhutto power’ as an election-winning tool is understandable, but the execution of the strategy can be called into question. Many have objected to Bilawal’s ‘indoor’ campaign, restricted to television and the internet while others, including politicians of the ANP, PTI and MQM have taken the risk of participating in outdoor meetings, jalsas and door-to-door campaigning. The PPP’s leader’s ability to be ‘in touch’ with the people is considered at stake here.

On the other hand, given that Bilawal’s mother, Benazir was assassinated during one such public rally, it can also be considered reasonable for the PPP to hold on to and guard its most valuable political asset – or can it?

Do you think the party leadership is at fault for making Bilawal conduct the election campaign from the sidelines in this distant and half-hearted manner? Do you think Bilawal will be able to disagree on such matters with his lot of advisers who have been members of this party since decades? More importantly, does everyone agree that he is too young to be the main figure in PPP’s election campaign?

Considering the political mileage associated with Bilawal’s name, what election strategy alternatives could the PPP consider in an environment where it is consistently afraid of conducting outdoor jalsas for fear of militant attacks?