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Bhutto's son and husband to lead party

Bilawal Bhutto, 19, would lead the Pakistan People's Party. The party intends to participate in Jan. 8 elections.

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After a weekend of bloodshed and anger in which riots brought Pakistan to a standstill and the presidency of Pervez Musharraf was again plunged into crisis, Benazir Bhutto's husband made an astonishing announcement.

His son, Bilawal, a 19-year-old college student, would take over for his mother as leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), and the party was willing to contest elections on Jan. 8 – less than two weeks after Ms. Bhutto's assassination.

"My mother always said democracy is the best revenge," Bilawal told reporters Sunday.

At the close of a weekend in which at least 38 people were killed in rioting aimed predominately at Mr. Musharraf's government, the announcement creates confusion about whether the election will go forward. An official of Musharraf's ruling party had earlier suggested that the vote could be delayed up to four months.

It is both a lifeline and a threat for Musharraf, whose popularity has plummeted and whose legitimacy depends in large part on these elections. Yet if elections go ahead Jan. 8, there is the possibility that the PPP could win a massive sympathy vote, making the party a far more potent force than it otherwise would have been.

Musharraf "is in a genuinely difficult spot," says Christine Fair, a South Asia analyst at RAND, a strategic consultancy in Arlington, Va.

Already, the nation's anger has turned against him. Since Bhutto's assassination Dec. 27, many have accused Musharraf of negligence, saying he provided minimal security for Bhutto. Others claimed a conspiracy, pointing to the odd statements and actions made by the government since her death – for instance, saying Friday that she was killed, not by bomb or bullet, but by hitting her head on a sunroof lever.


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