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Bhutto's legacy propels Pakistan People's Party ahead of election

Her party is expected to do well in Feb. 18 parliamentary polls, analysts say.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 14, 2008

Campaigning: Jehangir Bader, of the Pakistan People's Party once led by Benazir Bhutto, greets voters in Lahore, Pakistan.

Mark Sappenfield

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Lahore, Pakistan

On the streets of Lahore, the election campaign is in crescendo. A crowd surges through narrow streets, leaving party flags as a man with a megaphone cries: "The blood of Bhutto will bring a revolution."

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Technically, this rally is for Jehangir Bader, one of the Pakistan People's Party's (PPP) top candidates. But even for Mr. Bader, Bhutto is the only name in this campaign: "This is all her support on which we are capitalizing."

For the PPP, the Feb. 18 parliamentary election is about their slain leader – her name in every slogan, her face on every billboard – and in death, she could push her party to victory, with one poll suggesting that half the nation supports her party.

"You don't know why we have committed our vote to PPP?" asks Mohammed Suleiman, a shopkeeper who says he has always voted for the PPP's major opponents. "Benazir Bhutto has sacrificed her life."

As the party most clearly aligned with US interests, including a desire to fight terrorists and willingness to work with President Pervez Musharraf, the rise of the PPP could herald a revival of the partnership that the US has long sought – lending the democratic legitimacy of Ms. Bhutto's party to Mr. Musharraf's pro-US policies.

Yet everything hinges on election day. PPP officials say they expect to win a majority of seats in the National Assembly. Analysts and pollsters don't make such a bold prediction, but they agree the PPP is ascendant.

If results don't bear this out, and there is suspicion of tampering to help Musharraf's political allies, Bhutto's husband and current party leader, Asif Zardari, has forecast violence, implying that the PPP will take to the streets.

Still, it increasingly appears that the PPP will benefit as many seek to honor Bhutto's sacrifice. "It is the sympathy vote, nothing else," says Shafqat Mahmood, a columnist for The News, a national newspaper.

The PPP is planning to hold a massive rally in Faisalabad today to build on its momentum. Recent polls have underlined the commanding lead that the PPP has taken ahead of Monday's election. The largest poll yet conducted about the upcoming Pakistani elections, by the International Republican Institute (IRI), found that half of Pakistanis say they prefer the PPP.