|Party to contest elections; Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) too decides to end boycott|
— Photo: AFP
Political heir: Family members of Benazir Bhutto atttend a Pakistan People’s Party meeting in Naudero on Sunday. (From left): Asif Ali Zardari, daughters Bakhtawar and Asifa, PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim, and Bilawal
ISLAMABAD: “My mother always said democracy is the best revenge.”
With these words, delivered with a touch of schoolboy drama, Benazir’s vulnerable-looking 19-year-old son Bilawal, who has added Bhutto to his family surname Zardari, announced his entry into Pakistan’s turbulent politics as the new chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party.
Seated between his father Asif Zardari and PPP vice-chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim at a press conference in the Bhutto ancestral home at Naudero in Sindh on Sunday, the bespectacled Oxford student vowed to carry on the party’s struggle for democracy with “renewed vigour.”
The PPP’s central executive committee, which met in the afternoon in Naudero after the soyem or third day mourning for Benazir, endorsed Mr. Bilawal’s succession to his mother’s position.
At the meeting, the PPP also decided to participate in the January 8 general election, which political analysts predict it will sweep on a sympathy vote for Benazir. But signals from the government, the Election Commission and the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), the main political ally of President Pervez Musharraf, indicated a postponement of the election.
Caretaker Information Minister Nisar Memon told ARY that a final decision would be made at a Cabinet meeting on Monday.
Ruling himself out as a prime ministerial candidate, Mr. Zardari, who spent eight years in jail on corruption charges after Benazir’s second term ended in 1996, said the party’s nominee for Prime Minister would be “Makdoom Amin Fahim or someone like him.” But he added quickly that the PPP would take a collective decision on this.
The executive committee also passed a resolution demanding an international investigation into Benazir’s assassination along the same lines as the one for the Rafiq Hariri killing in Lebanon.
In a “political will” dated October 16, two days before her arrival in Pakistan after an eight-year self-imposed exile, Benazir had nominated her husband to succeed her as the leader of the party.
Mr. Bilawal read out the will at the party meeting. Mr. Zardari said that he had handed over the leadership to his son as “there is no better person to lead the party than Bilawal.” He described him as the symbol of the party and of the federation of Pakistan, but said he would assist his son as he was of a “tender” age and had to complete his studies.
Mr. Zardari said their three children had decided to change their name to include the legacy of their mother. “From now on, Bilawal will be known as Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.”
Party workers immediately erupted into slogans of “Jeay Bhutto”(long live Bhutto) and “Zinda hai Bibi, zinda hai Bhutto” (Benazir lives, Bhutto lives).
Mr. Zardari asked supporters to turn out in large numbers on voting day “and take the image of Benazir to the Prime Minister’s house.” He thanked Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader Nawaz Sharif for expressing solidarity with Benazir by announcing a boycott of the elections, but said he would appeal to Mr. Sharif to change that decision. He said the PPP’s “war” was against “a section of people in the government” who were behind her killing, and not against the Pakistan Army or the unity of Pakistan.
He regretted the Sindhi separatist slogans at her funeral.
The PML(N) said later with the PPP’s decision to take part in the election, it too had decided to drop the boycott and return to the fray, but said a final decision would be taken at a party meeting on Monday.
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