Amidst mounting security concerns, the Pakistan People’s Party has cancelled a major rally marking the death anniversary of its founder, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, coinciding with its campaign for the May 11 general election.
Instead of holding a massive rally near the Bhutto family mausoleum at Garhi Khuda Baksh in Sindh province on Thursday, the PPP will organise a small gathering in a hall in Naudero town, party leaders said.
The gathering will be addressed by President Asif Ali Zardari even though he recently gave up his position as head of the PPP due to pressure from the courts.
PPP “patron-in-chief” Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari will attend the programme in Naudero along with some 4,000 party workers from across Larkana, a traditional stronghold of the Bhutto family.
Mr. Bilawal on Tuesday returned to Pakistan after spending over a week in Dubai, where he had gone after a tiff with Mr. Zardari and his aunt Faryal Talpur over the party’s affairs.
Party leaders claimed the rally marking founder Zulfiqar Bhutto’s death anniversary, an annual event, had been cancelled due to a tough election schedule and security threats.
Waqar Mehdi, a spokesman for the Sindh chapter of the PPP, told the media that the party’s candidates were busy with the scrutiny of their nominations papers by the Election Commission.
The PPP had earlier said that it would formally kick off its campaign with the rally on the death anniversary of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on April 4. The party would now focus on smaller meetings due to security threats.
Mr. Bilawal will not lead the PPP’s campaign though he will address several rallies during the election campaign, party leaders said. However, it was not clear whether the 24-year-old Bilawal would address rallies outside the PPP’s stronghold of Sindh province.
Earlier, the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had issued threats against PPP, Awami National Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement during the election campaign.
The Taliban has already carried out several attacks targeting leaders of the secular ANP in the north-west.
PPP leaders have referred to this threat as a reason for Mr. Bilawal maintaining a low profile during the campaign.
“It is ironic that the PPP is facing security threats but the PML—N and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf are immune to such threats,” party spokesman Waqar Mehdi said.
In a separate development, Mr. Bilawal spoke to key PPP leaders across the country via video conferencing from Karachi on Tuesday night and directed them to finalise the allotment of tickets for the polls.
“It is high time party workers and leadership stood up and started preparations for the upcoming election. We want a massive campaign across the country,” Mr. Bilawal was quoted as saying by the media.
Senior PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira dispelled reports that the party would not organise rallies as part of its campaign due to security threats.
“At least 20 massive public rallies will be held in different cities and towns, which will be addressed by Bilawal,” Mr. Kaira told The Express Tribune.
The PPP also formed seven committees to monitor its campaign, including a central committee led by former minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim.
Former premiers Raja Pervez Asharf and Yousuf Raza Gilani and senior leader Mian Manzoor Wattoo were entrusted with leading the campaign in Punjab, the country’s most populous province.
Some reports said Mr. Bilawal would tour all districts in Sindh province with his sister Asifa Zardari to address public meetings. Mr. Bilawal himself cannot contest polls till he turns 25 in September.