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December 30, 2007
Pakistani People's Party keeps it in the Family
The party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has announced that her son, 19-year-old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, will carry on as his mother's successor - eventually. The slain party leader's husband Asif Zardari will act as caretaker until Bilawal completes his studies at Oxford:
Pakistan's largest political party on Sunday chose to continue its dynastic traditions, anointing 19-year-old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as his mother's ultimate successor but picking husband Asif Zardari to lead in the short-term following Benazir Bhutto's assassination on Thursday. The electoral commission - firmly in the control of President Musharraf - will meet tomorrow to decide whether to allow the elections to go forward as planned or whether to postpone them. Continued violence in the streets would seem to make postponement inevitable:
The selections mean that the Pakistan People's Party, which casts itself as the voice of democracy in Pakistan, will stay in family hands for a third generation.
Asif Zardari quickly announced that the party will compete in the upcoming parliamentary elections, although he suggested that another party leader would probably be the candidate for prime minister.
Another opposition party responded that it also would participate in the election. Sadiq ul-Farooq, a senior member former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party, told the Associated Press that following the decision by the Pakistan People's Party, "we will also contest."
That election, scheduled for Jan. 8, appears likely to be postponed. Tariq Azim Khan, spokesman for the party of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, said that voting may be delayed for as much as four months because of the turmoil following Bhutto's assassination.
The death toll from the violence climbed Saturday above 40, with many people fearfully staying indoors while others ventured out to torch government buildings or battle with police firing tear gas. There is also the threat of additional attacks in parts of the country where the extremists have been operating.
The unrest turned streets in this normally frenetic city, Pakistan's largest, into empty expanses of asphalt. Dozens of burned-out cars and buses lay by the sides of the roads, evidence of nighttime mobs that roamed the city in defiance of soldiers and police. Food shortages were reported in some areas of the country, and most gas stations and shops were closed.
With a large percentage of the population idle and angry, there was concern Saturday that the violence could worsen. "These are the sentiments of the people. This is their natural reaction," said Zahid Hussain, 30, a truck driver who had pulled over Thursday night in rural Sindh province, Bhutto's stronghold, and had not moved since for fear of attack.
All of this would seem to point to putting off the elections. For how long will be a very delicate matter. Musharraf dare not wait too long or the street demonstrations will take on the character of a revolt against his rule.
This is just one more balancing act Musharraf must carry out while extremists seek to bring chaos to his country.