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Lahore by-polls: Shehbaz’s absence casts shadow on campaign of Nawaz’s wife

Kulsoom was a safe bet for the Sharifs in the bye-elections, but her cancer diagnosis has come at a bad time for the party. At the same time, reports suggest Punjab chief minister is ensuring he stays out of Pakistan till the polls are over.

world Updated: Sep 16, 2017 23:27 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Campaign poster featuring the images of Kulsoom Nawaz and Maryam Nawaz (centre), with Shehbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif at the extreme right.
Campaign poster featuring the images of Kulsoom Nawaz and Maryam Nawaz (centre), with Shehbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif at the extreme right.(via Twitter)

While the odds are tipped in favour of Kulsoom Nawaz, the wife of Pakistan’s ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, in the bye-election to his former parliamentary seat in Lahore on Sunday, there are some who have predicted resistance from other parties.

One contender seems to be Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which says its candidate, Yasmin Rashid, a stalwart of the party and a gynaecologist by profession, is well respected in the whole constituency.

“She will bring in more votes than usual,” said analyst Ayaz Khan, who insists the PTI will do better than its dismal rout in the last general election in 2013.

A trip through the constituency, largely comprising parts of the old quarter of Lahore, however, clears up any doubts. Buntings and posters of Sharif and his family have flooded the area.

This is Nawaz Sharif territory, where much of the development work is attributed to the former premier. Allah Ditta, who sells soft drinks in the old city, said he will always vote for Sharif “come what may”.

For many like him, Sharif is the answer to their prayers. For the past two decades, the area — where cars battle for space with horse-drawn carriages — has seen unprecedented development under Sharif and his brother, Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif. Historically, the area continues to vote for the former premier.

The timing of Kulsoom’s health scare (she is currently being treated for lymphoma or throat cancer), could not have come at a worse time.

Kulsoom was a safe bet for the Sharifs. Voters in the NA 120 constituency are familiar with her and are keen that she returned to Pakistan ahead of polling day on Sunday.

“She is a safe bet. Not tainted by charges of corruption like her husband, Kulsoom is seen with respect for her role as a temporary opposition leader when Nawaz was imprisoned by (former military ruler Pervez) Musharraf (in 1999),” said one voter.

In her absence, Kulsoom’s daughter Maryam Nawaz is running the campaign. She has held numerous rallies and street corner meetings and expects the PML-N to pull through.

Ironically, it is her own party that doesn’t seem to be helping. Local media reports suggest that chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza are apparently ensuring they stay out of Pakistan till the by-polls are over.

Maryam Nawaz insists “the whole family” is supporting her in the campaign for her mother, but other said the absence of Shahbaz will hurt the campaign.

Poll posters with the image of JuD chief Hafiz Saeed, despite the Pakistan Election Commission warning against the same. (via Twitter)

In all this, Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawah has made its appearance with the presence of an independent candidate whose campaign posters feature the image of the Lashkar-e-Taiba founder. Analysts said the right wing vote bank continues to cast its ballot in favour of the PML-N but the JuD’s political debut is a significant factor.