Zardari remains in power race

ISLAMABAD –  Bilawal Bhutto Zardari may well be leading the Pakistan People’s Party but his father Asif Ali Zardari could take oath as the prime minister, if the party wins the 2018 general elections.

Right in front of thousands of the party workers this week, Bilawal himself announced that the future PPP government will work under the “guidance” of Zardari and complete his unfinished reforms.

Zardari relinquished presidency in 2013 after a full five-year term – unprecedented in the country’s history.

He then officially launched Bilawal as the party leader and the party has since known the younger Zardari to be the PM, if the PPP returned to power.

But lately there have been voices within the party that Zardari should take up the bigger role for another term, and let Bilawal gain experience.

For months Zardari has been more aggressive.

He taunts the opponents more than Bilawal, who takes an occasional shot.

At the December 5 rally too, Bilawal counted the party’s achievements and the past performances, while Zardari had a go at the rivals.

He made it clear that the PPP would not save “Nawaz Sharif’s democracy” anymore and also hinted at early elections – a persistent demand of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief, Imran Khan.

Zardari blasted Sharif and Imran Khan calling them, “Godfather”, “fake mandate” and “fake Khan”.

He also danced to the tunes of famous PPP anthems to mesmerise the party workers. For rivals, the dance moves were not easy to digest.

The mobilisation of the PPP workers months ahead of the general elections – which Zardari believes could potentially be held before time – is a bad signal for the political rivals.

For Imran Khan and the ousted premier, Nawaz Sharif, the rally had attracted more people than they expected and those in politics know that the PPP only need a rhythm to make a comeback.

The PPP Secretary-General, Nayyar Bokhari, said Zardari had not retired and was very much active in politics.

“We have a central executive committee that will decide people for top government posts once we win the elections. For now, we are concentrating on the polls. Zardari’s candidature for any top slot cannot be ruled out,” he maintained.

Bokhari said Zardari was a former president who had rich experience in politics, which was essential for the future of the party.

“The PPP needs Zardari no matter who is the prime minister or the president. His guidance is much needed. Both Zardari and Bilawal have their importance,” he added.

About Bilawal’s soft and Zardari’s spicy speech at the golden jubilee rally the other day, Bokhari – the former Senate chairman – said the PPP chief did not criticise rivals but was “mature” in speaking about the party’s performance in the past.

Senator Taj Haider, another senior PPP leader, said Bilawal chose to speak about the party instead of hitting out at opponents.

“This is the way we are going to move forward. There is no need to abuse others. We are going into the next 50 years. The past 50 years [of the PPP] are past now,” he remarked.

The lawmaker said it did not matter who became the PM after the PPP wins the polls.

“The first step, first. When we win the polls, we will decide. It doesn’t matter who is nominated as the PM. What matters is that we should deliver,” he contended.

Haider said Zardari had not retired from the politics, so he could play any role the party decided.

“We have consultations. The main aim is to perform.  Any person from the party could be named for the top slots,” he added.

The senator claimed his party had performed well in Sindh where “medical treatment is free” and lots of development projects had been completed.

 “For the next 50 years, we aim to deliver rather than debate on who will be the PM and who will be the president. Zardari can be the PM or Bilawal or anybody. The party will be in power, if we win,” he insisted.

Although the party itself is confused on the PPP’s candidate for the premiership, Zardari wants to push Bilawal forward.

“I present to you Bilawal. I am sure you people would be loyal to my children the way you were to Benazir Bhutto and me,” he had said at the golden jubilee rally.

Zardari said the PPP had fulfilled Benazir Bhutto’s vision during its rule from 2008-2013.

The former president said he spent 11 years in jail and the PPP leaders sacrificed their lives in the past to promote democracy.

“Now we are in a much better position. The analysts have started to acknowledge Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and myself,” he said.

On Wednesday, Zardari was even more optimistic, saying the PPP public gathering at parade ground had proved that the party was the greatest political force in the country.

“The PPP will form the next government in the centre and [the] provinces,” he said.

The PPP has formed government three times after the controversial execution of party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979.

The party led the government in 1988, 1993 and 2008.

It only completed the term after the 2008 elections.

Benazir Bhutto – assassinated in 2007 – led the government in 1988 and 1993, while in 2008 Yousaf Raza Gilani was picked as the PM.

He was ousted by the Supreme Court for contempt in 2012.

Raja Pervez Ashraf completed the remaining tenure.

Zardari remained the president from 2008 to 2013.

He is the only president who completed a full five-year term.

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