Chairman Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has emerged as a powerful voice against the government in recent days. From his election campaign in 2018 to his first speech in parliament, Mr Bhutto-Zardari has won accolades for being a voice of reason and sanity. From calling Prime Minister Khan ‘selected PM’ to being extremely vocal about media censorship, from talking about minorities rights to voicing his concern for the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), Mr Bhutto-Zardari has been hitting all the right notes. Even his political opponents have had to praise him for challenging this government and other powerful quarters.
Ali Dar, son of former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, recently tweeted: “@BBhuttoZardari, you beauty! Eloquent, undeterred and not the least bit daunted! BB Shaheed would have been so proud; I’m sure she is smiling down on you from the Heaven. Godspeed!” This was after Mr Bhutto’s press conference on April 29.
Bilawal Bhutto’s powerful speeches and his statements have irked not just the government but many others as well. Prime Minister Imran Khan and former Finance Minister Asad Umar resorted to sexist comments against Bilawal Bhutto when they didn’t have any answers to the issues raised by him. In a media talk a few days ago, Mr Bhutto asked if the PTI was happy with the ‘umpire’ and asked the umpires whether they liked this ‘tabdeeli’ (change). After DG ISPR’s press conference, Mr Bhutto was the only one who had the guts to say that the prime minister should not be making the military spokesperson give a political statement on the government’s behalf. “I think if the government has something to say, then a respective minister should come out and say it … we respect our institutions and don’t want to see them being made controversial in any way,” said Chairman PPP.
One reason why the PPP chairman has been in the news is because the other Opposition party – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – is missing in action, or at least their leadership is. Mian Nawaz Sharif is unwell so it is understandable why he is quiet but his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, who used to be extremely vocal and active on social media has also not said much (except a few tweets here and there). Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif is in London for medical treatment. There are rumours that the PML-N may strike a deal with the powers-that-be and Mian Nawaz Sharif may leave Pakistan on medical grounds. While Prime Minister Imran Khan has been harping on and on about not giving any sort of deal or NRO to his political opponents, these rumours also give credence to the fact that the real power to give ‘relief’ to politicians lies somewhere else. Only time will tell if the Sharifs finally strike a deal, there are indications that a ‘go-slow’ policy has been adopted in their case.
If the PML-N leadership takes a deal – despite their denials – it will inevitably leave a vacuum in the political arena and that vacuum is being filled by the PPP leadership, notably Bilawal Bhutto.
It seems that the PML-N leadership also feels that Mr Bhutto has taken their space and maybe that is why Maryam Nawaz has started tweeting again. These tweets are of course not with the frequency that were witnessed before she went to jail but some of them are political in nature – something that was missing in the last few months. Some analysts believe that it is because their workers are now pointing out how Bilawal Bhutto has been speaking out so loudly and clearly on issues that should have been taken up by PML-N leadership.
In his Press Gallery, senior journalist Nusrat Javeed wrote: “…a huge number of PML-N backbenchers have begun feeling envious of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who has almost hijacked the limelight through a consistently spirited presence in the national assembly and media.”
In private, many PML-N stalwarts say that their leadership should not have gone so quiet and instead should have been saying things that Mr Bhutto has brought up in recent months. Even in television talk shows, PML-N members have been praising Bilawal Bhutto.
Critics say that Mr Bhutto has been making all these noises because of the fake accounts case against his father, former President Asif Zardari. Prime Minister Khan and PTI leaders have said on countless occasions how this is just to divert attention from the PPP’s alleged corruption. Some analysts believe that this is not entirely true. Mr Bhutto-Zardari has been very clear when it comes to issues like civil-military relations, minority rights, human rights and other sensitive issues. He has been raising his voice about these issues for many years now. The PTI is of course playing politics by levelling such accusations whenever he gives a speech against the government but it also highlights how much Mr Bhutto gets under the skin of PTI.
Time is on Mr Bhutto’s side as he is still quite young but there are some issues that he must address. One of them is the performance of the Sindh government, which has been criticised for its mis-governance. Mr Bhutto also needs to focus more on Punjab as this is the country’s largest province and any party that aims at forming a government in the Centre cannot do it without having a formidable presence in Punjab. Over the decades, the PPP has become all but invisible in Punjab. The vacuum created by the PML-N can be filled by the PPP but only if they re-organise the party in Punjab. The PPP leadership also needs to connect more with its voter base. More public interactions need to be planned.
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has all the qualities of being a national leader like his late grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and late mother Benazir Bhutto. Right now, he is the only real Opposition.