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Benazir Bhutto's son takes up the family trade in Pakistan (+video)

The son of Pakistan's slain former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, launched his political career Thursday, vowing to continue his mother's fight for democracy.

By Contributor / December 27, 2012

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari, (l.), raises the hand of his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari during a rally to mark the fifth anniversary of Pakistan's assassinated leader Benazir Bhutto in Garhi Khuda Baksh, Larkana, on Thursday. Bhutto Zardari, 24-year-old son of Bhutto launched his political career Thursday with a fiery speech before thousands of cheering supporters.

Press Information Department/AP

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Karachi, Pakistan

Five years after the assassination of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, her son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari made his first major speech today aimed at galvanizing supporters of the Bhutto family-led Pakistan Peoples Party.

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The son of Pakistan's slain former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, launched his political career Thursday, vowing to continue his mother's fight for democracy.

The speech, delivered in the family’s hometown of Garhi Khuda Bux in Pakistan’s Sindh Province, was attended by thousands of party supporters gathered to mark the anniversary of Benazir Bhutto’s death. Days after her 2007 assassination, the then 19-year-old Bilawal was elected as the party’s chairperson, though his role has been largely symbolic until now.

As Mr. Bhutto Zardari takes a more active role in his party, it is a reminder that Pakistani politics have long been dominated by influential families and that one's position in government is often determined by family ties. 

While many of the Pakistan Peoples Party's voters, particularly in rural areas, are happy that the party is led by Benazir's son, nepotism in politics and government has increasingly become a sore point for urban, middle class voters who are less supportive of the PPP. Of late, most political scandals in Pakistan have involved family members of leading politicians, including the Chief Justice's son, who is accused of taking money from a prominent businessman.

“If you look at any mainstream political party in Pakistan, it is seen as a family business at every level, passed down from father to son – and occasionally daughter – to grandson,” says Cyril Almeida, an assistant editor at Pakistan’s leading daily Dawn. “It is the nature of politics out here. Society puts a premium on personality rather than performance; and so last names matter.”

The Pakistan Peoples Party was founded in 1967 by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a charismatic yet controversial leader, who was deposed in a military coup and executed on charges of abetting murder. After he was imprisoned, his widow Nusrat Bhutto led the party, followed by his daughter Benazir, who chaired the party until her death. Though grandson Bilawal was elected to lead the Pakistan Peoples Party, his father Asif Ali Zardari was also elected co-chairperson before he became president of Pakistan in 2008, and has largely run party affairs.

The trend of family-dominated politics is prevalent across the subcontinent.

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