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ISLAMABAD: The PPP concluded its election campaign without the active participation of Asif Ali Zardari.

Background interviews with a number of PPP leaders indicate that the party had done this on purpose, though there are two opinions on the reason behind the move.

Most party members claim the aim was to launch the young chairman of the party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and to allow him to lead the party campaign during his first election independently.

Party members are divided over motive behind the strategy

Another group in the party says the move was aimed at presenting a new and “untainted” face as these elections are being contested on a single point agenda: corruption.

Most party leaders, from both groups, however, say the idea of keeping Mr Zardari away from the national campaign has been successful which is evident from the response to the party’s public meetings and rallies, particularly in central and southern Punjab.

“Bilawal was hailed everywhere only as the son of Benazir Bhutto and the grandson of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto,” a senior PPP leader and a central office-bearer said.

The PPP leader, who was part of the internal party discussions on the election and campaign strategy, said that during the meetings, a majority of the party members, mostly from Punjab, said only Bilawal should lead the election campaign.

Most people in the party, he said, thought that Bilawal should lead the party campaign as he represents the younger generation.

Another PPP leader said a group in the party thought that going into the elections with Asif Zardari and his sisters could be detrimental for the party which is already struggling in Punjab.

He said a number of candidates in Punjab had requested the party that they want to contest the elections independently and not on the party ticket.

“You will see pictures of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Bilawal Bhutto on almost every poster. But not many candidates have Mr Zardari’s picture on their posters,” he added.

The famous slogan of Aik Zardari Sab Pe Bhari has also been rarely heard during election rallies.

Mr Zardari is contesting the election from NA-213, Shaheed Benazirabad-I while his two sisters, Dr Azra Fazal and Faryal Talpur- are contesting for provincial assembly seats.

The former president was present at the launch of the party manifesto at the National Press Club last month, but he provided Bilawal the opportunity to present the party programme and respond to questions from reporters.

Since then, he has only been busy holding party meetings in Bilawal House in Karachi and running his campaign in the constituency he is contesting.

A senior PPP leader from Lahore and former party office-bearer, Naveed Chaudhry dispels the impression that the party made an intentional decision to run its election campaign without Mr Zardari.

He said the party had initially planned public meetings in all major cities and towns which the former president was to address.

The party later changed its strategy, he said, and decided to organise election rallies. Since Mr Zardari is facing health issues, Bilawal had to take responsibility of leading and addressing the rallies.

Spokesperson for Mr Zardari, Aamir Fida Paracha said the former president was busy in his election campaign and had not accompanied Bilawal due to the party’s strategy.

Responding to a question in last week’s news conference, Bilawal had said that the party had so far not decided on its prime ministerial candidate and that the final decision will be taken after the elections.

During an earlier TV interview, the PPP chairman had said Asif Zardari was the “best choice” for a prime minister if a coalition government is formed.

He explained that his father had experience of managing a coalition government and was the first civilian president to complete a term in office.

The coalition government under him was also the first to complete a full term.

Mr Zardari is considered a shrewd politician and recently played a key role in the Senate elections and succeeded in getting an independent from Balochistan, Sadiq Sanjrani, as the chairman with support from PTI.

Political experts see the results of the Senate election as an outcome of the active political manoeuvring of Mr Zardari, who managed to get PTI support despite the categorical announcement of Imran Khan that he will never join hands with PPP while Zardari is at the top.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2018