Family dynasty fills Bhutto vacuum in Pakistan
Benazir Bhutto's party named her son and husband as new leaders, following a South Asian tradition of keeping political power in the family.
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Yet there is little doubt that the party is still firmly in the hands of Asif Zardari. Indeed, there is a sense of ownership in South Asian parties. While families such as the Bushes and Kennedys rose to prominence in American politics, there was no concern of the parties becoming their personal property.
In Pakistan, however, Bhutto's father created the PPP, and, to many Pakistanis, it seems logical for control to pass along family lines.
"In our culture, blood is thicker than water," says Abida Hussain, a PPP leader and former ambassador to the United States. "We are a poor people, and we have not intellectualized enough to have the detachment of Western culture."
Moreover, she says, the Bhutto name transcends Pakistan's regional and ethnic divisions. "Bilawal stands for the unity of the party," she adds. "If the party were to depart from what [Bhutto] wanted, it would atomize."
To some, though, the lack of opportunity for a PPP stalwart like Aitzaz Ahsan is symptomatic of a larger problem in Pakistani politics. The lawyer became hugely popular during the fight to prevent Mr. Musharraf from sacking the chief justice of the Supreme Court last spring – so popular that he is one of the few people who remain under house arrest, weeks after Musharraf's emergency rule ended.
"Because the political system is not running on merit, the emergence of new leadership has become very difficult," says Khalid Rahman, a political analyst at the Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad, Pakistan. "For the country, this is the problem."
Instead, Pakistani politics is purely about power, experts say. In rural Pakistan, where voters are uneducated, many pledge an almost feudal devotion to their local leaders. These leaders then peddle their vote bank to national parties, promising votes in return for greater clout in the next administration.
Inevitably, they are drawn to the parties with the greatest chance of winning, creating a system that all but shuts out new voices. "They don't have a chance to win," says Dr. Jalal, the historian.
Add to that the stop-and-go nature of Pakistani democracy. Constantly interrupted by successive military dictators, grass-roots politics – the feeder-system for new leadership – has had little chance to take root. Jalal adds: "If the political process was ongoing, there would be greater pressure" welling up from beneath to break the glass ceiling.
That has already happened in India, where numerous regional parties have broken off from the Congress Party.
"There was no opportunity to rise to the top under the Gandhi dynasty,"says Jalal. "That's why they split apart."