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Last Updated: Friday, 8 February 2008, 00:05 GMT
Bhutto's party fights for her legacy
By Barbara Plett
BBC News, Larkana

A stream of pilgrims flows into the Bhutto tomb to pay homage to the family's latest martyr.

Bhutto family mausoleum
Mourners have been gathering at the Bhutto family mausoleum

Inside its cavernous, echoing halls they shower the grave of Benazir Bhutto with rose petals.

Outside, the trade in mementoes is thriving: recordings of her speeches, photographs and posters, some of them depicting her with Sufi mystics.

It's a similar scene to that at Pakistan's Sufi shrines.

For many of the visitors, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December has indeed transformed her into a saint.

Even those less spiritually inclined treat the family with reverence.

"We love the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), but we love the Bhutto family more," says one man.

"The party is the Bhutto's party," says another, "first the father, Zulfiqar, then Benazir, and next her son, Bilawal."

Still, the PPP is hoping such devotion will translate into a huge sympathy vote in elections later this month.

And now that the 40-day mourning period has ended, it's hitting the campaign trail in earnest.

But when the sympathy wanes, what will happen to the party, without Benazir Bhutto at its helm?

Competing claims

Benazir's husband Asif Ali Zardari took charge just days after her death.

In her political will, she anointed him party leader, and he in turn anointed their son, Bilawal, co-leader.

Fatima Bhutto
Fatima Bhutto says the Bhutto legacy rests with the people

But this was not about perpetuating a political dynasty, he says.

"She designated me because of my closeness to her," he said in an interview.

"She knew my mental aptitude, she knew I could rise to the occasion, she'd seen me under duress, under 11 years of incarceration. If anyone knew me in life, she knew me."

The PPP was founded in 1967 by Benazir's father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto - a feudal landowner who vowed to empower the rural poor.

He also inspired middle-class intellectuals. For all, Bhutto and Bhutto-ism meant change.

But there are competing claims to the party and legacy.

Zulfiqar's relative, Mumtaz Bhutto, was a founding member. He is also a feudal landlord, holding court on the terrace of his palatial estate to settle his tenants' disputes.

He left the PPP long ago because, he says, it failed to bring change.

"It was a party of the feudal elite right from the start," he says. "But there was a very strong element of the working class in the PPP also.

"In the beginning the focus was on the manifesto, which promised the working classes a lot of benefit.

"Today the focus is on just getting into power, the feudal elite are the beneficiaries of the People's Party, not the working class."

Disputed legacy

Another Bhutto also believes the PPP betrayed its roots.

Ghinwa is the widow of Zulfiqar's son, Murtaza, and head of his breakaway party, the PPP-Shahid Bhutto. She says the party compromised on principles to gain power.

Asif Ali Zardari
Mr Zardari was named by Benazir Bhutto as her political heir

In village courtyards crowded with gaunt peasants and dirty children, she preaches social justice, economic equality, and power to the people.

In rural Sindh, such ideals are synonymous with Bhutto-ism.

"We're just the guardians," she tells an attentive audience. "You and your hopes are Bhutto-ism, the hope that what seems impossible can become possible."

Fatima Bhutto belongs to the younger generation of the family and she believes her grandfather Zulfiqar still inspires hope. Some see her as a future leader.

But she rejects the idea that she, or her cousin Bilawal, or any Bhutto is Zulfiqar's political heir.

"Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto never intended for his children or his nieces or his nephews or grandchildren to possess the Bhutto legacy," she says, sitting in the shadow of an immense painting of her grandfather.

"It's the people who inherit the legacy of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and it's with them that the party must rest, so it doesn't have to be a family member."

United by loss

Yet it's Benazir's name the PPP is counting on to win the elections.

Party leaders argues she did much during her times in government, despite obstruction from the army and intelligence services.

Poster of Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi
The PPP wants to show it can survive Ms Bhutto's assassination

And they point out the PPP regularly wins the largest popular vote.

At subdued campaign meetings, candidates lead constituents in mourning.

The message is clear: Benazir is a martyr and the only way her death can be avenged is by voting for her party.

And united by loss, the PPP has rallied around Asif Zardari. He is a controversial figure, spending 11 years in jail on corruption and murder charges.

He was never convicted, but many blame him for the reputation of sleaze that trailed Benazir Bhutto's governments.

Some fear he will not be able to hold the party together after elections. He insists he has the support of the leadership.

"They all thought I was a uniting factor," he says, "someone whom the poor, the feudals, the intellectuals, and the detractors would accept, that is why it happened."

Back outside the mausoleum, a throng of people draped in PPP flags chant Benazir's name.

There is no doubt she still has the power to inspire - that, even in death, a Bhutto will overshadow the election.

But the real test comes after the polls, when the party will have to prove whether it is just a name, or whether it can bring change.



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