After his return to Pakistan from an 18-month, self-imposed exile, former president and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Zardari announced Tuesday that both he and his son, the party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, will contest elections and be part of "this Parliament".
"I want to share the good news I had promised to share: Bilawal and I will contest the election now, right now, [and sit] in this Parliament," Zardari told a charged crowd of PPP supporters as the party obvserved the 9th death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh near Larkana.
This was Zardari's first major appearance alongside his son and party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari at a rally in three years, DawnNews reported.
Zardari said that he would contest the election from Nawabshah for the seat currently occupied by Azra Fazal Pechuho, and that Bilawal would contest the election from Larkana for Ayaz Soomro's seat.
Zardari's announcement is being interpreted as a strategy to enter parliament through by-elections in the two constituencies. Fresh polls will have to be called if Pechuho and Soomro give up their seats in Parliament in line with the party's directives.
"We have sacrificed much for the sake of democracy and politics to save Pakistan. We will not leave this Mughal emperor [Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif] to rule," Zardari continued.
The former president hit out at the premier. "Mian [Nawaz Sharif] Sahab we gave you this democracy as a sacred trust. We made every decision with your input. We made decisions in Parliament through consensus. It is a pity that you seem to have forgotten all your promises today," he said.
Zardari also demanded that the Supreme Court decision on Panamagate be brought to the floor of the Parliament and be vetted by all political parties.
"We would like to see you and your judges go down in history as respectable individuals, not as people who twist the law for their own gains," he added.
"This is our right. We will protest, exercise our democratic right and go to the parliament. Go to the courts and the bar councils, and talk about what is happening and what should be happening," Zardari said.
The PPP's 'long march'
In a fiery speech, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari warned the government of the party's preparations for a 'long march'.
"Principally we have decided that we have to start preparing for a long march," Bilawal announced. "I will begin making visits around the country to get my four demands met."
However, he said, the party has yet to debate the matter in its Central Executive Committee meeting.
The PPP leader had earlier threatened the government that the party would launch a long march on Dec 27 if the government failed to meet the PPP's four demands.
The party's four demands include passage of the draft Panama bill, immediate appointment of a permanent foreign minister, reconstitution of the parliamentary committee on national security and implementation of the resolution on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passed by a multiparty conference.
Bilawal earlier had said that while his party had been pressuring the government in a soft and democratic way to accept the demands, he warned that the PPP would take to the streets and launch a campaign for early elections if the demands were not met.
PPP takes strong stance on Panama bill
Bilawal took a strong stand on the Panamagate controversy, calling for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to present himself for accountability and allow passage of the Panama bill in the National Assembly.
Despite the premier's assertions that the party is free of scandal, Bilawal asserted the PML-N is embroiled in scandal.
"Do you think us simple? That we don't know you at all?" he questioned. He alleged the government is 'full of scandals'.
"The opposition in the Senate has passed the Panama Bill. If you obstruct its passage in the National Assembly, then you will have to face the opposition's protests," the PPP chairman warned.
"On the one hand, you want to present yourself for accountability, but on the other, you continue to obstruct the Panama bill in the National Assembly," Bilawal said.
He added that the party does not want to approach the apex court without the bill.
"The courts have never delivered justice to us [the PPP]," he claimed. "Will they provide justice to the people of Pakistan?" he asked. "This is why we want to get this bill passed and go to the Supreme Court," he said.
Bilawal lashes out at 'govt incompetence'
Bilawal lashed out at the PML-N government on multiple fronts, including terrorism and religious extremism.
"The interior minister is threatening people instead of resigning," he said, accusing Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar of meeting with people from banned outfits.
Earlier this month, an inquiry report on the Aug 8 Quetta Civil Hospital attack slammed government inaction against militants and criticised the interior minister for meeting with the heads of some banned groups to and 'acceding' to their demands.
"The world wants to call us a terrorist state, [and yet] people in your cabinet facilitate terrorists," Bilawal alleged while addressing the prime minister.
"If something were to happen tomorrow, you can run away from this country, but the 20 crore people of Pakistan must stay here," he added.
"My parents have taught me to respect my elders. But that does not mean we cannot disagree on our politics," Bilawal said, adding he will not stay quiet when he sees the federation fall apart because of the government's ineffective policies.
Bilawal pays tribute to mother, grandfather
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari paid tribute to his grandfather, PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and his mother Benazir.
"Millions of people die every year, but the vision, the ideology and the courage of some people endures," he said.
"BB said you can exile a man but not an idea. You can imprison a man but not an idea. You can kill a man but not an idea."
And although the PPP's ideology has persisted and endured the test of the time, the PPP chief claimed, it is now time to 'present a new PPP'.
"We have to present a new PPP so it can stay abreast of current challenges," he said.
Bilawal claimed that the vision of Benazir Bhutto was even more valuable now than it was in the past.
"The PML-N government has been unsuccessful. We cannot stay quiet any longer," he said.
Anticipation was high through the day as workers arrived in the dusty village from different parts of the country. Reception camps were set up in Larkana and adjoining towns and participants were welcomed with party songs played at full volume.
Tricolour party flags, banners and life-size portraits of Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Asif Ali Zardari adorn the venue of the public meeting as well as the route to the pindal.
Parking areas for the participants’ vehicles have been set up at a distance of about a kilometre from the mausoleum.
Party leaders arrive in processions
Party leaders Safdar Abbasi, Haji Munawwar Ali Abbasi, Ms Naheed Khan and others arrived at the mausoleum in a large procession after conclusion of a workers convention in nearby Waleed village.
Amid loud slogans, they laid floral wreaths on the graves of Z.A. Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and other members of Bhutto family and offered fateha.
“We are here to pay homage to Benazir Bhutto who laid down her life for the sake of democracy and supremacy of law in the country but never compromised her principles,” Dr Safdar Abbasi and Ms Naheed Khan said.
They added that Benazir Bhutto had strengthened the party with her 30 years’ struggle but, thanks to Zardari, the party had now been confined to Sindh only.
They said that party workers were dejected and the party itself was gradually losing popularity in Sindh.
Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, along with his cabinet members, arrived at the Bhuttos’ mausoleum and held a meeting with party leaders and acting Sindh police chief Mushtaq Mahar to review security arrangements earlier in the day.
Meanwhile, PPP provincial chief Nisar Ahmed Khuhro also held a meeting with the mazar committee to finalise arrangements for the anniversary.
CEC endorses decision
Later, the Central Executive Committee of the PPP in a meeting endorsed Zardari's decision to seek election to parliament, the party spokesperson said.
PPP leader Farhatullah Babar told media that the supreme forum of the party also deliberated the proposed long march against the federal government.
The committee has reposed complete trust in the leadership, he added.
By-elections in two months
Pakistan Peoples Party leader and Adviser to Sindh Chief Minister Saeed Ghani said that by-elections in the constituencies of Nawabshah and Larkana will be conducted within two months.
In a talkshow on a local news channel, he made it clear that the two lawmakers (from Nawabshah and Larkana) are not being ‘sidelined’.
"It is an honour for both of them that the party leadership is being elected from their seats," he added.
He said that the leader of the opposition in national assembly would be replaced definitely and hoped that Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari would be replacing current opposition leader Khurshid Shah.