Nawaz Sharif’s wife wins Lahore bypoll, but party faces tough times ahead

According to unofficial figures, Kulsoom Nawaz won the seat by a little more than 13,000 votes. But analysts said the narrow margin has made the PML-N leadership sit up and take notice of the situation on the ground.

world Updated: Sep 19, 2017 08:12 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
PML-N,Lahore bypoll,Kulsoom Nawaz
PML-N workers guide voters and share voting lists outside a polling station in Lahore, on September 17, 2017.(Reuters)

As celebrations continued on Monday to mark the PML-N’s victory in bye-elections to fill the seat in Lahore vacated by former premier Nawaz Sharif, the narrow margin by which his wife won suggests the party will have to re-think its tactics for upcoming general election.

According to unofficial figures reported by the Pakistani media, Sharif’s wife Kulsoom Nawaz won the seat by a little more than 13,000 votes, bagging nearly 62,000 votes while the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was in second place with about 47,000 votes.

Yaqoob Sheikh, a candidate backed by the Jamaat-ud-Dawah was in the third place.

“There are many lessons to learn here,” said political analyst Malik Tariq Ali, who argued that what was once a “safe PML-N seat has now been challenged by another party”.

In the elections held on Sunday, Sharif complained how some PML-N supporters had been kidnapped on polling day and how certain polling stations were closed ahead of time to deny his party its due share of votes.

But analysts said the narrow margin has made the PML-N leadership sit up and take notice of the situation on the ground.

“The Panama Papers case has given the Sharifs a battering. They will have to work on their image,” said political commentator Faisal Bari. Others wondered about the political prospects of the ruling party for next year’s general election.

PML-N supporters outside a polling station in Lahore on September 17, 2017. (Reuters)

The person given the most credit for pulling off the victory is Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, who relentlessly campaigned for Kulsoom, currently being treated in London for cancer.

In some ways, this was the launch of Maryam Nawaz’s political career and she impressed many with her drive and determination.

At the same time, the manner in which Sharif’s brother, Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, removed himself from the campaign suggested that there may be some tension between the siblings who have presided over the fortunes of the PML-N for decades. This will also not help the party in the long run.

Apart from the PTI, the launch of the JuD’s political party – Milli Muslim League (MML) – too is a cause for concern for the PML-N, observers said.

Coming third in the by-polls, ahead of the Pakistan People’s Party, suggests that the MML is emerging as a new political force in Punjab, the country’s most politically crucial province.

While it is too early to say how the MML will fare in the general election, what seems to be apparent is that the PML-N’s vote bank could take a battering because of the new party.

As Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Sharif met in London to discuss the party’s future political strategy, what became clear was that the PML-N can no longer take Lahore and the Punjab for granted.

The PTI has managed to give the PML-N a real challenge in its home base and the bye-election has proved that Imran Khan’s party is becoming a force to reckon with in Pakistan’s most populous province.

First Published: Sep 19, 2017 07:13 IST