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October 6, 2018

Break from the past


October 6, 2018

Before the election, and during campaigning, the one person everyone was watching was Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. It was obvious that the PPP would not be forming government in the centre so practically not much attention should have been paid to the party’s campaign.

But the way Bilawal swept the country, delivering confident speech after speech, everyone wanted to know more about this young man who was showing us what kind of leader he would be.

Sarcastic wit is the one quality that has started to define his speeches in parliament. From his jibe at the ‘PM-Select’ to charmingly lashing out at the PTI’s method of opposition, he has started to appeal to many in a short time – primarily because expectations from this native English speaker were so low. Bilawal is commanding respect, not just because he is the heir apparent, but because of his forefront role in parliament and his leadership potential.

A popular refrain in Karachi is: “We would vote for the PPP if we did not live in Sindh.” For the moderate Pakistani, the PPP has a lot of appeal; with its defined manifesto, carried from rally to rally by Bilawal, and with its moderate and inclusive views, it has the potential to appeal to both genders across the country. But for the past ten years, and years before, the state of Karachi and Sindh has been so dismal that when confronted by a ballot paper, it goes against a responsible and aware citizen’s conscience to vote for the PPP.

Putting aside the allegations of rampant corruption, the dilapidated state of infrastructure, the lack of law and order, let’s focus on the PPP and Bilawal’s top priority: health. Sindh’s overall healthcare structure allows for one bed to 1417 patients. It is the only major province dealing with ghost doctors – 1200 reported on last count. From 2013 to 2018, Sindh changed its health secretary every single year. Sindh does not have a government ambulance service (both Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa do). The PPP claims they have a service called the Benazir Bhutto ambulance service but mostly never been seen in practice.

In the first month of this new reign in government, Sindh stood witness to the death of ten-year-old Amal. Her death was caused by lack of law and order and a lack of health facilities. Amal’s case stood out because of her mother’s powerful words and push for change – but these stories occur every single day. Why should we trust Bilawal Bhutto?

The answer is simple: desperation. Bilawal can win the hearts of minds of the people of Sindh because they are so very desperate. It won’t take much to do this – but then the PPP in Sindh has never really done much to begin with. Dare we hope that there can be change – with a young chief minister, and a young party head who is reportedly being given a free hand by his supervising co-chairman?

With the PPP, you can never be too sure. It is difficult to forget that the first time Bilawal tried to do absolute change politics, he ended up silent. With more than 470 people including 300 children dead, in 2014, the Thar crisis was at its peak. An angry Bilawal issued show-cause notices to the then CM. It was a relief to see him so realistically active after the Marie Antoinette-ish Sindh festival that had been held earlier that year.

Not surprisingly, he left for England soon after. After a few months had passed, and the silence of Bilawal was difficult to ignore, his father said that Bilawal was in England, learning politics again.

There is desperate hope now that Bilawal has not learnt the politics of his father, and will perform the magical act of giving people their basic human rights.

The magic wand Bilawal has is that he can use this time and space he has garnered to separate himself from the baggage of his family’s past performance. It won’t take much; even a little change will do. But if he does not deliver, he will be thrown into the same category as the others – the elite and the corrupt. And in the next round, coming third in Lyari might happen without any valid excuse.

The writer is a senior executiveproducer at Geo News.

Twitter: @mariumch

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