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Bilawal as PPP chief: Does it matter?
Mohammad Shehzad in Islamabad
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'Pak ruler' behind Benazir's killing: Zardari

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December 31, 2007

It is a decision that smacks of political illiteracy on the part of the Pakistan People's Party. The party's decision to elect Benazir Bhutto's [Images] son Bilawal Zardari as its new chairman may have ended the speculation over slain premier Benazir Bhutto's successor, yet it is on course for a confrontation with the country's Constitution.

According to the Political Parties Order 2002 and the Constitution of Pakistan, Bilawal is ineligible to hold any office in any political party as he is just 19-years-old. He needs to be at least 25 to be an eligible candidate.

The Political Parties Order 2002 says:

'Every citizen, not being in the service of Pakistan, shall have the right to form or be a member of a political party or be otherwise associated with a political party or take part in political activities or be elected as an office-bearer of a political party: Provided that a person shall not be appointed or serve as an office-bearer of a political party if he is not qualified to be, or is disqualified from being, elected or chosen as a member of the Majlise-Shoora (Parliament) under Article 63 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan or under any other law for the time being in force.'

According to the Constitution, one must be at least 25-years-old to become a member of Parliament. Thus, Bilawal is ineligible to be PPP's chairman, as he is ineligible to become member of Parliament.

What appears to be a big blunder could be a possible deliberate move to counter advances by others to stake claim. Fatima Bhutto, the daughter of Murtaza Bhutto and the niece of Benazir Bhutto, is 25. Her mother Ghinwa Bhutto is the head of a breakaway faction of PPP -- Pakistan People's Party (Shaheed Bhutto Group).

The PPP leadership is aware of the importance of the "Bhutto factor" in the party's success in the forthcoming elections. It must have felt that only a 'Bhutto' can keep the party united. However, the dilemma is that there are three breakaway factions of the PPP -- the PPP, the PPP (Shaheed Bhutto) and the PPP (Sherpao) -- and every faction claims to be the true follower of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Benazir had, in her will, named her husband Asif Ali Zardari as her successor. Zardari manipulated the situation quite tactfully. Even as he accepted his wife's decision, Zardari cleverly passed on the baton to his son Bilawal. The move resulted in 19-year-old Bilawal changing his surname from Bilawal Zardari to Bilawal Bhutto.

Zardari knows that only a 'Bhutto' can keep the PPP effectively alive. A non-Bhutto name will not survive long. Owing to his limitations, Zardari knew he will not be able to keep the party united. He may be accepted as the party's leader for the time being by the senior leadership; however, when the grief over Benazir's death subsides, it will be difficult for him to remain in full control. Thus, Zardari played his cards well by making Bilawal the party's leader than taking that seat himself.

Zardari is now the co-chairman of the party. In this capacity, he will be the person at the helm. He will be making the party's decisions. Bilawal's chairpersonship will be symbolic. Zardari, over the years, has proved himself to be a shrewd politician.

Ever since he married Benazir, he has spent more than 10 years in Pakistani jail on charges of corruption (though not a single charge was proved). Benazir paid his courage a great tribute by calling him the 'Nelson Mandela of Pakistan.'

Zardari proved his political astuteness when Benazir was prime minister twice. He had the ability to influence his wife's political decisions. He has done the same even after her death. She wanted him to be the party's chairman. Instead, he assigned this job to his son -- a great disappointment to many.

What it proves is that politics in Pakistan is not a discipline; political parties are not an institution. No qualifications and experience is required to be a politician. Other disciplines are far more professional. If you have to hire a butler, you would look for a number of things in the prospective candidate. But in politics, nothing is a pre-requisite.

"This simply shows the poverty of Pakistani politics," says Ayaz Amir, a renowned columnist who is now contesting a National Assembly seat from Chakwal on a PML-N ticket.

"It is surprising to note that the PPP could not find any trusted, senior leader from the party. A Bhutto name is indispensable, which is again the poverty of Pakistani politics," laments Ayaz.

But does it matter that politics should be a discipline; political parties should be institutions? The fate of the people of Pakistan is not in their hands. The political parties may win elections and form governments, but they never represent the wishes of the people.

They might want to change the lot of the people, but they are held hostages by the dictatorial forces like the military establishment, jihadis and clerics. The best example is of the judiciary. For the first time in Pakistan's history, the judiciary under Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had started operating in an independent manner. It was not tolerated by the then in-uniform President, who sacked the former under the cover of emergency on November 3.

So, it really does not matter who heads the PPP -- Bilawal, Zardari or any X, Y, Z. Pakistan would continue to be run by three As -- Allah, Army and America.

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