Thousands of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party workers came from all over the country to pay their respects to the slain premier in her hometown. They promised to re-launch their election campaign with great zeal and to avenge their leader’s death.
The mood in Pakistan changed drastically when Bhutto was assassinated on Dec. 27
Thousands of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) workers gathered in the remote village of Garhi Khudda Baksh in Sindh province in south-east Pakistan, where Benazir Bhutto is buried.
Special security forces had been deployed to Bhutto’s mausoleum to avoid any disturbance. This did not stop the workers from storming the shrine and laying flowers on their late leader’s grave.
Benazir’s widower Asif Ali Zardari addressed the crowd and pledged to take political revenge for Benazir’s assassination by winning the forthcoming elections.
Zardari is reportedly planning to launch the election campaign later this week. The Pakistan People’s Party had suspended its campaign after Benazir was murdered, deciding to mourn her for 40 days.
Drastic change of mood
Mushtaq Odhano, a local journalist, explained that the mood had changed drastically after Bhutto’s assassination.
"The PPP’s election campaign turned into a period of mourning. Benazir -- her name, her assassination and her political will -- became a symbol. PPP workers started carrying pictures of her and flags."
"They gathered in the streets and talked only of her. They stopped chanting party slogans and made no political speeches. The people in our region are deeply affected and women especially will vote for her party in great numbers."
Tense run-up to elections
Zulfiqar Shah, a social worker, said that the run-up to the elections would be very tense: "Now that the PPP is going to participate in the election campaign, it will face difficulties -- especially in Sindh."
"There have already been clashes between the PPP and the Musharraf wing of the Pakistan Muslim League. There will be more incidents like that because PPP workers are very emotional and easily-provoked after Bhutto’s assassination. The Feb. 18th elections may not be free and fair and they certainly won’t be peaceful."
Bias in the media
Opponents to the Musharraf government fear the elections will be a sham. They have accused the state media of bias in favour of Musharraf. Whereas some of the private media have complained they are being restricted.
On Thursday, Aaj Tv, a private TV channel was blocked for several hours after a political commentator, Nusrat Javed, appeared on screen.
Javed himself explained what had happened: "It was a programme in memory of Benazir Bhutto. The idea was to discuss her life and her political style and what could be the post-assassination scenario. The programme had been on air for barely 15 -20 minutes and then it was blocked."
It was clear that the owners and management of Aaj TV had been told I wasn’t allowed on screen, whether as an anchor or a guest. It’s like a targeted killing. The message is very clear that I have no future or career as a journalist in this country.
Pakistan’s biggest political party, the PPP, may be re-launching its election campaign but if curbs on the media remain, experts say, it is doubtful whether Pakistan’s upcoming elections will be free and fair.