Who will lead PPP after Benazir

Updated: Dec 29 2007, 05:34am hrs
With the assassination of its charismatic leader Benazir Bhutto, the PPP is in a quandary as to who would lead the countrys largest political party which has traditionally banked on her family.

There is no clear indication as to who would step in to head the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) which does not have any leaders with the same grassroots appeal as Bhutto.

Questions about finding her successor arose soon after Bhutto, the two-prime minister, was shot dead by a suicide attacker after she addressed a rally in nearby Rawalpindi on Thursday.

The names of Bhuttos trusted aide Makhdoom Amin Fahim, her husband Asif Ali Zardari and senior lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan as her successor are doing the rounds.

The party, however, is stunned by the sudden development that no decision on leadership issue is even being contemplated at the moment.

The PPP has traditionally banked on the Bhutto family for its leadership. Benazir Bhutto had herself stepped in to fill the void created by the execution of her father, former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged after a controversial trial conducted by the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq in 1979.

Bhuttos three children are all teenagers and they are unlikely to be drafted in to succeed her. Bhuttos sole surviving sibling, Sanam Bhutto, too has persistently avoided Pakistans politics.

Zardari wields considerable influence in the party but lacks popularity among the masses, mainly due to the charges of corruption that dogged him during Bhuttos two terms as prime minister in the 1980s and 1990s.

Zardari was named along with Bhutto is many of the graft cases brought against her by the government and many within the PPP even considered him a liability for Bhutto. When Bhutto returned to Pakistan from exile in October, Zardari did not accompany her and remained in Dubai.

Fahim, on the other hand, is a low key leader and lacks the charisma of Bhutto, who was her partys only star campaigner during the recent electioneering.

Party sources suggested that the PPP could look at other leaders like Ahsan, who is also the Supreme Court Bar Association President.

Ahsan was a leading light of the campaign launched by the legal fraternity against President Pervez Musharraf earlier this year and also defended former Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry when Musharraf suspended him in March.

In recent months, Ahsan had been sidelined by Bhutto, primarily over their differing stands on the reinstatement of judges who were sacked by Musharraf during the recent emergency.

While traversing the country with Chaudhry, Ahsan developed considerable grassroots support that could help him play a larger role in the leadership of the PPP, sources said.

The PPP will also have to decide on the key issue of whether to contest the polls, especially in the wake of the decision by former Premier Nawaz Sharifs PML-N to boycott the elections.