Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Thursday launched the Pakistan People's Party's election campaign in a low-key manner, invoking the legacy of the Bhutto family and calling on people to back the party in the May 11 election.
Addressing a gathering of hundreds of PPP leaders and workers in the Bhutto family's traditional stronghold of Naudero in Sindh province, Bilawal listed the achievements of his grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and mother Benazir Bhutto, as he made an emotional appeal to voters.
"Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's grandson and Benazir Bhutto's son is calling on you today. This is a movement of peace and it will rest only after ushering in peace and security in Pakistan," 24-year-old Bilawal said in the speech that was aired live on state-run television.
Describing the PPP's election symbol of the arrow as a "symbol of democracy", he urged people to vote for the party.
In an effort to address reports of his differences with President Asif Ali Zardari's sister Faryal Talpur, Bilawal asked PPP supporters to vote for his aunt as she was safeguarding "his seat" in parliament.
Bilawal also asked the people to pledge that they would make the PPP victorious in polls and exhorted party workers to back former premiers Yusuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf during the election campaign.
He led the crowd in chanting emotional slogans about his grandfather and mother and their sacrifices and achievements.
The PPP organised the gathering of its workers behind closed doors in Naudero, after cancelling a major public rally that is organised every year on April 4 to mark the death anniversary of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the party.
PPP leaders said the rally was cancelled due to security concerns and because party workers were busy with the scrutiny of nomination papers.
Bilawal left Pakistan for Dubai in March after a tiff with Zardari and Talpur over the management of the party’s affairs. After spending over a week abroad, Bilawal returned to Pakistan after Zardari flew to Dubai to persuade him to come back, PPP insiders said.
PPP leaders have said Bilawal will address several rallies but will not lead the party's campaign.
Zardari also addressed the gathering and listed the achievements of the PPP-led government, but he did not make any appeal to voters, apparently due to rulings from courts that the President should remain impartial in politics.
Only the state-owned PTV was allowed to cover the meeting live as all other media channels were barred from coverage.
Analysts believe other parties like the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz and Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaf have taken the lead on the campaign trail by organising mammoth rallies in different parts of the country.
During his speech, Bilawal said his father, President Zardari, had kept Pakistan above everything else.
The PPP-led government started the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline and opened the Gwadar port to the world, he said.
"Terrorists were ousted from Swat and the writ of the State was restored but injustice continued against the PPP. Once again, we had to make the round of courts and there was the Swiss letter drama. One prime minister was sent home and an order was issued to arrest another. We had no occasion to even breathe," he said.
Bilawal was referring to the Supreme Court's actions to revive graft cases against Zardari.
Gilani was convicted of contempt after he refused to reopen the cases and had to step down as the premier.
Bilawal said the party's manifesto in the coming elections retained the slogan raised by ZA Bhutto, "Roti, Kapra aur Makaan" (food, clothes and house).
Zulfiqar Bhutto was hanged 34 years ago by military dictator Zia-ul Haq after being toppled by the army. Bilawal's mother Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun and suicide attack during an election rally in Rawalpindi in 2007.
Zardari said many forces were hatching conspiracies against democracy but he was hopeful that real democracy would flourish in Pakistan with the support of the people.
"We took bold decisions in the larger interest of the country and the people, and to secure the future of our coming generations despite many challenges," he said.
The PPP-led government had proved that only democracy was a cure to all ills and the people could not be fooled by any drama, Zardari said.
He said he preferred to “write history” instead of remaining only in the media headlines.
The PPP made history by transferring all powers to the elected prime minister and parliament, which amounted to empowering the people, he said.
"It is the PPP's policy that power rests with the people," he added.
Zardari acknowledged that there were shortcomings during the past five years of democratic rule and compared democracy to a tree that sways when young but stands firm when it grows tall.
"We have put the country on the right path and today democracy stands strong," he said.