The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) lost a large section of its nationwide support during the last general elections, and the backslide hasn’t slowed down since. Once the party ruled through coalitions in the centre and four provinces, not it only realistically competes for Sindh and small portions of Punjab. The consensus on why this has happened is virtually unanimous – the party’s gross mismanagement of national policy and less than transparent handling of funds has left Asif Ali Zardari and company to be one of the least popular figures in the country. With Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) waiting in the wings to snap up middle class liberal voters and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) willing to take in the rest there seems to be no way the once all-powerful party can regain popularity.

Unless – and the commentators are virtually unanimous here too – there is seen a clear break between the politics of the past and the past and the politicians of the future. If Bilawal Bhutto can become the face of the party, and bring with him a new crop of politicians, the PPP may still have a fighting chance, and it seems the party is doing exactly that. Asif Ali Zardari has said that very soon the running of the party would be completely handed over to Bilawal Bhutto, while he would only maintain only a nominal role as ‘mentor’. Zardari may be taking the right step for his party, but past events render it slightly ineffectual.

How independent is Bilawal actually going to be? Previously when he tried to reform the party and set up his own team he was checked heavily by his father, and senior leadership made sure they kept their authority intact – the row escalating to the extent that Bilawal left the country in anger. The Bilawal that arrived in the country with provocative speeches and fresh ideas may have been capable of giving the party a clean break, but the cowed Bilawal that returned to politics at the behest of his father, and under his strict command will only be seen as a repackaged Zardari. The ‘mentor’ tag is not fooling anyone, the centre of PPP power still resides in Dubai, and the party needs to do more to shake that impression.