PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has said he would prefer to form a government with independent candidates, ruling out joining hands with either the PML-N or the PTI in the February 8 polls.
In an interview with Reuters in Larkana, Bilawal said, “You know, lots of independent politicians, probably the highest (number) in our history, are taking part in the coming elections.”
It should be noted that after the PTI was stripped of its iconic ‘bat’ symbol, most of the independents would comprise PTI leaders who are contesting the upcoming elections as independent candidates. Party leader Gohar Khan has also expressed fears of horse-trading and floor crossing.
Positioning himself as an alternate to the PML-N and PTI, Bilawal had recently called on supporters of ex-PM Imran Khan to vote for him while their leader is in jail.
The PPP chairman spoke to Reuters in an interview during a gruelling four-week campaign that took him to more than 33 towns, while other parties began canvassing just last week.
Youth appeal and ambitious plans to combat climate change form the core of his effort to become the prime minister, which, if successful, would make him its youngest premier since his mother Benazir Bhutto was in office.
If Bilawal won the election, subject to the vagaries of government formation, calculations show he could be just 25 days short of his mother’s age on entering office in 1988, at the earliest.
“I haven’t actually counted, but […] I think she was the youngest,” he responded when asked how he rated his chances.
Asked if he thought the military establishment backed former premier and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal responded: “He’s certainly giving the impression that he is relying on something other than the people of Pakistan to become prime minister for the fourth time.”
Focus on youth, break with old politics
The 35-year-old called for new ideas and leadership to calm political and economic instability.
“The implications of the decisions taken today are going to be faced by the youth of Pakistan. I think it would be better if they were allowed to make those decisions.”
Bilawal plans to tap into widespread anger, saying he has a concrete plan to provide free electricity and boost social safety programmes, despite fiscal constraints.
“What we propose is to completely restructure Pakistan’s development model, putting the threat of climate change front and centre,” he said, in a reflection of his party’s election manifesto.
It aims to ensure that funds exceeding $10 billion pledged last year go to fight climate change, after super floods in 2022 that displaced more than 7 million people.
About two-thirds of Pakistan’s population of 241m is younger than 30, while its prime ministers since 2000 have been older than 61, on average.
Bilawal is less than half the age of three-time premier Nawaz, 74, whom analysts consider the frontrunner in next month’s election, and Imran, 71.
PPP has lost space to the PML-N and the PTI, who have been locked in a bruising political battle for more than a decade.
In the 2013 elections, the PPP came second after the PML-N, garnering 42 of the 342 seats up for grabs. In 2018, with 54 seats, it was runner-up to the parties of both Imran and Nawaz.