ISLAMABAD: Deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam faces the first real test of her campaigning skills to get her ailing mother, Begum Kulsoom, elected from their stronghold of NA-120 Lahore.
This is the first time that she is openly engaged in the process for a crucial by-election not only for her mother’s victory but also to prove that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) enjoys popularity. Her previous involvement in such campaigns had mostly been out of sight and never witnessed the media hype like the instant one.
The entire electioneering has been left to her as her other relatives, who are in the political field, are barred from this exercise for being the elected representatives under the directive of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). All federal and provincial ministers and lawmakers are prohibited from taking part in the election campaign.
At a time when Maryam was supposed to be with her indisposed mother in London as daughters’ presence worldwide are always very soothing, caring and comforting for sick mothers, she has to stay put in Pakistan for the campaign precisely as she had done when Nawaz Sharif had undergone heart surgery in Britain and had remained there for over a month.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s son Hamza, who is a member of the National Assembly, has been the chief strategist and supervisor of all the by-elections held in Punjab in more than four years since the 2013 parliamentary polls. Like other legislators, he also faces the restriction of campaigning for being an MP.
This time, he is not visible on the scene and has gone abroad to take care of some pressing matter. However, He had put in place an effective PML-N paraphernalia in Lahore that is now being utilized by Maryam. His departure abroad fueled speculations hinting at a rift in the Sharif family, but it died down quickly because it turned out to be unfounded and misleading.
Whatever the result of the Lahore by-poll on September 17, the credit or discredit for it will largely go to Maryam because of the role she has been assigned. Because of her illness and the ensuing treatment of her blood cancer, Begum Kulsoom is unlikely to be in a position to make much contribution to her election campaign.
However, Maryam may be assisted at some stage by her father, Nawaz Sharif, as he faces no bar to campaign in his time-tested constituency he or his nominees always clinched with a huge lead in all the polls.
The PML-N organizational wherewithal in Lahore will be at Maryam’s beck and call as she will spearhead the campaign. The local councilors, belonging to the PML-N, who have absolute domination over NA-120, will be extending a helping hand to her canvassing.
Compared to her main rival, Dr Yasin Rashid of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Maryam has launched her campaign with somewhat delay when more than two weeks are left to the polling day. The PTI nominee kick-started her canvassing the moment she was awarded the ticket after the seat fell vacant due to Nawaz Sharif’s Supreme Court-sanctioned disqualification on July 28.
Some senior PML-N leaders strongly believe that Maryam has been exercising a great influence on her father in firming up policies in political and some other spheres. They nurse feelings of being left-out in the consultative, decision-making process. However, despite such sentiments Nawaz Sharif kept guiding, preparing her for the bigger role in the PML-N in the first instance and later in its government after the upcoming general elections.
These PML-N elders always thought that Maryam was a hardliner, an approach they did not privately approve. They also did not agree to the strategy adopted by the government as well as the party in the Panama case. When Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the apex court, they quietly blamed her without ignoring the fact that the punishment imposed on him was a fait accompli and the result of a larger scheme to get rid of him.
However, during her first address while inaugurating the PML-N election office, Maryam reiterated the same powerful line that Nawaz Sharif had pursued during his four-day GT Road travel.
“The Panama Papers and ‘Iqama’ were just an excuse to target Nawaz Sharif. People’s court verdict in NA-120 would send the message to the entire world that he was Sadiq and Ameen (truthful and honest),” she stated.
Maryam put some leading questions to her supporters: Are you willing to accept the Supreme Court's decision disqualifying Nawaz Sharif? Will you stand up to defend the sanctity, honour and integrity of your vote: Are you charged up to avenge the insult inflicted upon Nawaz Sharif through the power of your vote?”
Like her father, she also stated that conspiracies had been hatched against his government right from the day one and all the sit-ins, cases and prosecution were just the means used through puppets as the real objective of the puppeteer was to depose Nawaz Sharif.
Despite all plots, she stressed, Nawaz Sharif remained silent for four years “but now that he is speaking the truth and giving befitting answers to the hypocritical political rivals, they are complaining.”