`Where is Bilawal?` Pakistan party campaign struggles
Garhi Khuda Bakhsh (Pakistan): A cancelled rally, a loathed president and a party chairman kept out of the public glare because of Taliban threats -- Gulzar Ali Khawaja has never seen anything like it.
For the first time in his life, the once ardent supporter of the Pakistan People`s Party, which led the coalition government for five years, says he won`t be voting in the general election on May 11 and doesn`t mince his words about why.
Furious, with his face red under the hot sun, he cannot believe that no major party leader addressed the crowds on one of the most sacrosanct dates -- the anniversary of the April 4, 1979 hanging of PPP founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
"I come here all the way from Karachi to pray on the anniversary and they can`t come?" said the 45-year-old property dealer, who drove nine hours from Pakistan`s financial capital to the Bhutto ancestral seat in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh.
"President Asif Ali Zardari has spoiled the party," he said.
The PPP announced it would kickstart its campaign for re-election after five years in office with a large rally on April 4, but then cancelled it.
Zardari, Bhutto`s widower, and their son, Bilawal, addressed a small gathering, closed to all but state media, in the middle of the night.
Bilawal, the PPP`s star attraction, appeared uncomfortable, speaking haltingly in heavily accented Urdu, a mark of his upbringing in England and Dubai.
He stumbled through the outgoing government`s achievements before asking listeners to "promise" to vote for "Aunty Faryal" -- Zardari`s sister -- who is contesting the Bhutto family seat.
Few party faithful who gathered at the shrine were impressed.
"Bilawal should not listen to anyone and come out into the public to see the workers as his mother and grandfather did," Khawaja told AFP.
PPP spokesman and former cabinet minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told AFP that the party respected people`s desire to see Bilawal but said the danger was too great.
"We can`t expose Bilawal to the real threat of terrorism. We can`t risk the life of another top leader," he said.
The Taliban have directly threatened the PPP and its main coalition partners, the ANP and MQM, often described as "secular".
During Pakistan`s last election campaign, Benazir defied repeated threats to address enormous rallies across the country.
When she was killed in a gun and suicide attack after an election rally in Rawalpindi in 2007, it shocked the party and the country.
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