Pakistan’s only major left-leaning political party is fighting for its electoral relevance and to preserve the legacy of the country’s best-known political dynasty weeks before the country heads to the polls.
In his first election campaign, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the scion of the storied Bhutto family who now heads the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is attempting to recapture the support his mother, two-time former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, enjoyed on her return from exile in 2007, before she was assassinated on the campaign trail.
Party leaders insist the 29-year-old Bhutto, Oxford-educated like his mother and grandfather – also a former prime minister – brings a fresh new appeal to the party as it attempts to revive its waning fortunes in a general election called for July 25.
“With Bilawal in the frontline of our campaign we hope to see a huge swathe of young people join us in our journey to turn back the tide of extremism, misgovernance and anti-democratic trends,” PPP Senator Sherry Rehman told Reuters.
Whether his father, former President Asif Ali Zardari, will be an asset or an obstacle in that effort remains a source of keen debate in Islamabad.
Some analysts and party insiders say Zardari’s tainted image, the result of numerous corruption allegations, could cost the party at the polls, where it will contrast with opposition rival Imran Khan’s relentless anti-graft message.
On the other hand, the most likely route back to power could be a post-election alliance with the charismatic Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Infasf (PTI), which has seemingly eclipsed the PPP in the past five years, and the former president would be a key figure in any such negotiations.
Once the country’s most popular party, the PPP finds itself on the brink of political irrelevance at the national level, and analysts believe it is more likely to be Zardari’s ability to cut a deal, rather than his son’s populist rhetoric, that will keep the party afloat.
“Zardari is looking at himself as a post-election facilitator rather than a major player in the actual electoral battle,” political analyst Aamer Ahmed Khan said.
Both PPP and PTI officials were cagey when asked about the possibility of an alliance, but did not rule it out.