The son of Pakistan's slain former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, launched his political career Thursday, vowing to continue his mother's fight for democracy.
Five years after the assassination of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, her son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari made his first major speech today aimed at galvanizing supporters of the Bhutto family-led Pakistan Peoples Party.
The speech, delivered in the family’s hometown of Garhi Khuda Bux in Pakistan’s Sindh Province, was attended by thousands of party supporters gathered to mark the anniversary of Benazir Bhutto’s death. Days after her 2007 assassination, the then 19-year-old Bilawal was elected as the party’s chairperson, though his role has been largely symbolic until now.
As Mr. Bhutto Zardari takes a more active role in his party, it is a reminder that Pakistani politics have long been dominated by influential families and that one's position in government is often determined by family ties.
While many of the Pakistan Peoples Party's voters, particularly in rural areas, are happy that the party is led by Benazir's son, nepotism in politics and government has increasingly become a sore point for urban, middle class voters who are less supportive of the PPP. Of late, most political scandals in Pakistan have involved family members of leading politicians, including the Chief Justice's son, who is accused of taking money from a prominent businessman.
“If you look at any mainstream political party in Pakistan, it is seen as a family business at every level, passed down from father to son – and occasionally daughter – to grandson,” says Cyril Almeida, an assistant editor at Pakistan’s leading daily Dawn. “It is the nature of politics out here. Society puts a premium on personality rather than performance; and so last names matter.”