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The Pakistan People's Party (PPP)

Party of the poor - or Bhutto family business?

Article published on the 2008-05-10 Latest update 2008-05-14 15:07 TU

PPP leaders, including Yousouf Raza Gilani, announce the forthcoming return of Benazir Bhutto, Peshawar, September 2007.(photo: Tony Cross)

PPP leaders, including Yousouf Raza Gilani, announce the forthcoming return of Benazir Bhutto, Peshawar, September 2007.
(photo: Tony Cross)

‘‘There is no doubt that the rich persons are leading us,’’ former airport worker Rayur Abbas admitted at a PPP rally in the industrial city of Faisalabad on 14 February, four days before the 2008 election. ‘‘But the training of the Pakistan People’s Party is: if you cannot support the poor persons, you cannot live in our party.”

The PPP won the largest number of seats in the February 2008 poll thanks to the votes of the poor.

But it was founded in 1967 by a rich landowner from Sindh province, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and has been dominated by his family ever since.

The party, which declares that it stands for ‘‘socialistic ideals’’ and ‘‘the elimination of feudalism’’, has had the opportunity to put its principles into practice on three occasions.

The first PPP government from 1971 to 1977 was brought down by a military coup led by then-Chief of Staff General Zia ul-Haq, who later declared himself president.

Under his rule, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was tried for the alleged murder of a political opponent and was hanged in 1979. His daughter, Benazir, was elected prime minister in 1988 and again in 1993.

Both of her governments were dismissed amid charges of electoral fraud and corruption. In 1998, while PML leader Nawaz Sharif was prime minister, Benazir Bhutto went into exile in Dubai with corruption charges hanging over her head and was later joined by her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who had served eight years in jail, without being charged, on similar charges.

The PPP won the highest number of seats in the 2002 election, but a breakaway faction formed a government with President Musharraf’s allies, the PML-Q.

A supporter brandishes Benazir Bhutto's photo at an election rally in Faisalabad, Punjab(photo: Tony Cross)

A supporter brandishes Benazir Bhutto's photo at an election rally in Faisalabad, Punjab
(photo: Tony Cross)

In 2007, Bhutto negotiated her return to Pakistan with Musharraf, in a US-backed deal which lifted a ban on three-term prime ministers and scrapped all charges against her and Sharif.

Two bombs at her welcoming rally in Karachi killed 136 people and injured hundreds more. In December 2007 she was assassinated while leaving an election rally in Rawalpindi. The identity of her killers is still unclear.

Following wishes expressed her testatment, the PPP elected Bhutto’s 19-year-old son Bilawal chairman, placing his father in the post while he finishes his studies at Oxford University in the UK. Zardari’s legal position prevented him becoming Prime Minister after the 2008 election, so Yousouf Raza Gilani took the post when the new government was formed.