What's the Deal with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari? The 19-year-old son of the late Benazir Bhutto inherited the reins of her Pakistan Peoples Party. The Oxford student will share power with his father, and neither is expected to be tapped for prime minister if the party wins a parliamentary majority next year.
NPR logo

What's the Deal with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/17717208/17717168" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
What's the Deal with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari?

What's the Deal with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/17717208/17717168" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


It was an announcement, the members of Pakistan's People's Party and frankly, the rest of the world, has been waiting to hear. Nineteen-year-old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, will succeed his late mother as a ceremonial head of there PPP. Days after the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, her final will and testament revealed a roadmap for her party's fight to bring democracy to Pakistan, and the party voted to continue the family dynasty.

Her son will ultimately take her place after he finishes his studies and her husband will act as co-chair of Pakistan's largest political party. Yet, neither men will likely be the candidate if and when the Pakistani presidential election happens next year. The position on whether or not to hold the elections on January 8th will come tomorrow.

On the phone with us now from Pakistan is Kamal Siddiqi, a journalist for News International. Kamal, tell me a little bit about Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, his interest, his political qualifications, his ability to lead.

Mr. KAMAL SIDDIQI (Editor, News International): Well, Bilawal Bhutto is a young man of 19 years old. He's untested in the political world of the Pakistan. The only training that he may have is through listening to his mother or seeing his mother as one of the most popular politicians in Pakistan. So in that sense, he is very young, he is very inexperienced and he's very untested.

STEWART: Now, Benazir Bhutto's husband will be the co-chair, Bilawal's father. Explain for us why he would not have been picked to be the person to take over for her?

Mr. SIDDIQI: Well, there are number of reasons for that. First of all is the fact that the party leadership is more comfortable in having Benazir's son, an heir, to be the leader, as against her husband, because there are many party workers who have some sort of reservation about a non-Bhutto leading the election or leading the party.

The second reason is that neither - Bilawal is very young and he needs someone to guide him, and that's why we see the announcement of a co-chairman, as well as the vice chairman for the party.

So, in effect, it is Zardari who is the de facto chief of the party. But to appease the people and the voters and the party workers, Bilawal's name has been announced as well at this stage.

STEWART: Now, Zardari had a history that, for some, makes them uncomfortable with him. He was thought to perhaps have taken certain kickbacks. He earned the nickname, Mr. Ten Percent. How controversial is he?

Mr. SIDDIQI: Zardari has been a controversial figure, no doubt. In the past, one of the weakest areas of Benazir Bhutto was to protect her husband's reputation because it was attacked several times in the past and he was accused of several things. But in the interim period, since Benazir Bhutto was last prime minister, which was - our last government was dismissed in 1996 - Zardari has spent most of his time in jail, in fact, eight years. He finally was released in 2004. And none of the charges ever was proven, so Zardari has emerged as with a somewhat different reputation as someone who has served his time and is now ready to lead.

STEWART: Now, if both Zardari and his son are not really seen as a possible candidate, should and when the elections occur in early 2008, who could be a candidate for this party?

Mr. SIDDIQI: Well, the person who was looking up to party affairs and heading the party while Benazir Bhutto was in exile is a gentleman called Makhdoom Amin Fahim. It has been hinted that he will be the candidate for prime ministership if the party does hold a majority in parliament.

STEWART: And is he considered a controversial figure or he's someone that everyone can get behind?

Mr. SIDDIQI: Makhdoom Amin Fahim, although somewhat uncharismatic, is also very uncontroversial. He's been a party worker for several decades. He's been behind Benazir Bhutto and he has not changed any laws as it is in the past. So he's seen as a solid person with a solid background, who may not be charismatic or may not cause people to sit up and take notice, but he's a safe bet.

STEWART: We are talking to Kamal Siddiqi who is joining us from Pakistan. He's a journalist for the News International, talking about all of the developments after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Now, there are critics of Bhutto's who has said that she didn't allow others to gain much recognition in the party and that she concerted her power and the decision makings and her hands and her family's hands.

So for the average Pakistani, how is the Bhutto dynasty viewed? Is it a good thing to continue to have power in the hands of this one family?

Mr. SIDDIQI: I think it's a matter of inspiration. People are inspired by the Bhutto name and they identify the Bhuttos as people who are struggling for their interest. And the one way they point towards this is that in every decade, one Bhutto has been killed in the name of democracy or in some way that the family has given so many sacrifices for democracy. So it is - the Bhutto name, like the Kennedy name in the United States or the Gandhi name in India that inspires a lot of people and brings up a lot of feeling amongst people to vote for him.

STEWART: Let me ask you about the official word from the government surrounding Benazir Bhutto's death. I'm wondering how people are reacting to the announcement over the weekend that the government is saying, no, she perhaps hit her head as a result of the impact from the blast the suicide bomber rather than bullets from someone's gun. How did that go over?

People are most upset and that is one reason why violence continued over the past two days because a lot of people are saying that the government is trying to hide something at the time when things should be clear and a genuine effort should be made to uncover the killers of Ms. Bhutto.

STEWART: Now, the election commission has to meet and decide about this January 8th elections. Very likely they will be pushed back. Bhutto had hoped to win power for a third time, but many people believed there would have been a three-way split between her, Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf's party. How do you think the elections will go now?

Mr. SIDDIQI: If the elections are held as on schedule on January eighth, the People's Party, the party of Benazir Bhutto, will have a very high sympathy vote. But a lot of it depends on what kind of arrangements are in place by the government to ensure that rigging does not take place. Because both Ms. Bhutto, before she passed away, and also the main opposition leader, Mia Nawaz Sharif, as well, have continuously said (unintelligible) arrangement for widespread rigging.

STEWART: Kamal Siddiqi is a journalist for News International. He joins us from Pakistan. Thank you so much, Kamal.

Mr. SIDDIQI: Thank you very much.

STEWART: Coming up on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT, you know him, you love him. Well, I do anyway. Bill's - Bill Wolff and sports, coming up next. You're listening to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.