Bhutto’s Son Named Successor

Benazir Bhutto, the slain former Pakistani prime minister, names her 19-year-old son Bilawal as her successor and the new leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party in her will, and her husband Asif Ali Zardari is expected to act as a kind of regent to him until he comes of age, a close family friend who has read the will told NEWSWEEK on Saturday.

Neither Bilawal nor Zardari, however, is expected to be named as the prime ministerial candidate of the PPP, the friend said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. That honor will go to a senior official, although it is not believed to be Amin Fahim, the vice chairman of the party who served as interim leader during Bhutto's eight-year exile.

Bilawal, who enrolled as a student at Oxford University only this year, is scheduled to read the will himself at a party gathering on Sunday. There is little doubt that he will be accepted by the party rank and file; the PPP has been an all-family affair in Pakistan's dynastic politics since Benazir Bhutto's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, founded it 40 years ago. Bhutto had given herself the title of "chairperson for life" and her only previous public signal as to who she wanted her political heir to be occurred when she sent Bilawal to register to vote for the first time earlier this year.

Even so, given Bilawal's youth, the role of her husband will no doubt be controversial within the party and in the politics of the country. Zardari is a former playboy and polo star who was labeled "Mr. 10 Percent" in the Pakistani press because of the commissions and kickbacks he allegedly demanded from contractors doing business with the Pakistani government. He  is widely blamed for the tangle of corruption that strangled and cut short Bhutto's two terms in office.

It is not known when Bhutto made the will, but the 54-year-old PPP leader had long made preparations for her possible assassination before returning to Pakistan last October. She even wrote the current president, Pervez Musharraf, a letter asking him to investigate certain individuals in his government if she were killed. Bhutto narrowly escaped one assassination attempt on the night of her Oct. 18 return, but she was killed Thursday in a second attempt.

The anointment of Bhutto's son will complicate the issue of whether scheduled Jan. 8 elections can go forward. Her chief secular rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, announced shortly after Bhutto was killed that he would boycott the vote, and it is not known whether the PPP's new prime ministerial candidate will be able to win anything like the votes that Bhutto was expected to garner.

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