December 29, 2007 / 9:08 PM / 12 years ago

Pakistan poll delay seen, Bhutto family appointed

(Updates with analyst comment, reaction, changes dateline)

By Faisal Aziz

NAUDERO, Pakistan, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Benazir Bhutto’s party appointed her son and her husband to succeed the slain Pakistani opposition leader on Sunday and the party said it would take part in a Jan 8 election as Bhutto would have wanted.

But a senior official of the former ruling party said the election was likely to be delayed for up to eight weeks.

Bhutto’s assassination in a suicide attack on Thursday has stoked violence and thrown into doubt the election, deepening a crisis in the important U.S. ally against terrorism as it struggles to emerge from military rule.

Bilawal, an Oxford law student, is Bhutto’s 19-year-old son. He will lead the party as chairman with his father, Asif Ali Zardari, who is to be co-chairman.

Zardari said the party would take part in the election as his assassinated wife would have wanted.

"Despite this dangerous situation, we will go for elections, according to her will and thinking," Zardari told a news conference at the Bhutto family home in Naudero in the south of the country, after a party meeting.

Bilawal, introduced at the news conference as Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, said the party’s long struggle for democracy would continue with new vigour. "My mother always said, democracy is the best revenge," he said.

Earlier, a senior official of the party that backs President Pervez Musharraf and ruled until a caretaker government was set up last month, said a postponement of the election was increasingly likely because of the turmoil that erupted after Bhutto’s killing.

"It seems more than likely that elections will be delayed," the official, Tariq Azim Khan, told Reuters. He said he expected a six to eight week postponement.

Bhutto had hoped to win power for a third time in the vote though analysts expected a three-way split between her, the party of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and the party that backs Musharraf.

The party can expect to pick up a sympathy vote after Bhutto’s killing and its core support would remain for now, even though Bilawal would return to university and the fact that Zardari, like Bhutto, was tainted by corruption accusations, political analysts said.

"It will retain support in the short term but obviously, in the long term they’ll have to earn their spurs and demonstrate leadership," said former minister and analyst Shafqat Mahmood.

But the choice of the Bhutto son and husband to lead the party raised eyebrows among some Pakistanis.

"I don’t think Zardari is capable enough of handling the party himself. Bilawal is too young, the father is not capable. Someone else should be appointed," said Ferooz Menon, 37, who has an electronics business in the eastern city of Lahore.



ANGER AGAINST MUSHARRAF

Anger against Musharraf burns strongly among Bhutto supporters and since her death sporadic violence has erupted, boosting fears about nuclear-armed Pakistan’s stability.

Pakistan’s stocks are expected to tumble on Monday due to political turmoil and violence, which threaten to scare off foreign investors and damage the economy.

Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, financial capital and main port, has been paralysed by a spasm of street violence. Shops have been shuttered, petrol stations closed and railways attacked by angry mobs, bringing transport to a standstill.

The death toll from the violence has reached 47.

Streets in Karachi were generally quiet and deserted on Sunday though a disabled man was burned to death when a petrol station was set on fire.

Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party has dismissed a government statement that al Qaeda killed her, saying Musharraf’s embattled administration was trying to cover up its failure to protect her. (With additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider, Augustine Anthony and Robert Birsel in Islamabad, and Asim Tanveer, Simon Gardner, Mark Bendeich and Simon Cameron-Moore in Karachi; Writing by Peter Millership)



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