‘Democracy is fragile’:
NZ-PM Jacinda Ardern
pays tribute to
Benazir Bhutto

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ISLAMABAD: New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern paid tribute to the late Benazir Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister, during her Harvard University Commencement address on Thursday, echoing Bhutto’s caution about the fragile nature of democracy.

Bhutto, the “daughter of Pakistan,” was twice elected prime minister and was killed on December 27, 2007, in a combined shooting and bombing attack at a rally in Rawalpindi.

“I met Benazir Bhutto in Geneva in June of 2007. We both attended a conference that drew together progressive parties from around the world. Seven months later she was assassinated,” Ardern said in her commencement address. 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

“There will be opinions and differing perspectives written about all of us as political leaders. Two things that history will not contest about Benazir Bhutto. She was the first Muslim female Prime Minister elected in an Islamic country, when a woman in power was a rare thing. She was also the first to give birth in office.  The second and only other leader to have given birth in office almost 30 years later, was me.”

Ardern said her daughter, Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford, was born on June 21, 2018, Benazir Bhutto’s birthday. 

“The path she carved as a woman feels as relevant today as it was decades ago, and so too is the message she shared here, in this place,” Ardern said about Bhutto’s own 1989 commencement address at Harvard entitled “Democratic nations must unite.”

“She said part way through her speech in 1989 the following: ‘We must realise that democracy can be fragile’,” Ardern said. “Now I read those words as I sat in my office in Wellington, New Zealand, a world away from Pakistan. And while the reasons that gave rise for her words then were vastly different, they still ring true.”

“Democracy can be fragile. This imperfect but precious way that we organise ourselves, that has been created to give equal voice to the weak and to the strong, that is designed to help drive consensus – it is fragile.”

Bhutto was born in 1953 into a wealthy landowning family. The first of four children, she was educated at a Christian mission school in Karachi, and then at Harvard and Oxford universities.

Mohatarma Benzir Bhutto

The daughter of Pakistan’s first popularly elected leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, her mission began in 1977 when army chief Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq overthrew him. Twenty-one months later Zulfikar was hanged after a controversial trial.

Bhutto became the first female prime minister in the Muslim world when she was elected in 1988 at the age of 35. She was deposed in 1990, re-elected in 1993, and ousted again in 1996 amid charges of corruption and mismanagement.

She said the charges were politically motivated but in 1999 chose to stay in exile rather than face them.

After more years spent abroad, Bhutto, 54, flew back again in October 2007 to lead her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) into national elections. 

Hours after she returned home after eight years of self-imposed exile, a suicide bomber killed nearly 150 people in an attack targeting her motorcade in the streets of Karachi.

The attack followed threats by militants linked to al Qaeda, angered by Bhutto’s support for Washington’s war on terrorism.

“They might try to assassinate me,” Bhutto had told the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in an interview before she set out to return to Pakistan. “I have prepared my family and my loved ones for any possibility.”