ISLAMABAD: The outcome of the fiercely-fought by-election to NA-120 Lahore seat will reveal how far the judgment in the Panama case against deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the toxic, full-throttle campaign against him deprived him of popularity.
The result will also disclose how far the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which has unremittingly campaigned against the Sharifs and subjected them to a myriad of unsubstantiated accusations and allegations over the past four years, benefited from its movement.
The electoral consequence will further unveil how the Lahorites of NA-120 reacted -- angrily or satisfactorily -- to the Panama verdict and conspiracies hatched and the treatment meted out to the ousted prime minister since the eruption of the Panama Papers in April last year.
The outcome will also uncover one way or the other the bearing of expelling an elected prime minister by means of a judicial medium instead of throwing him out in a manner provided in the Constitution -- rejection by people in general elections or voting him out in the National Assembly.
The result will further show how far the election campaign run by Maryam Nawaz single-handed was effective. Since launching the electioneering for her ailing mother, she has been untiring and determined to carry the day. Hardly any day passed when she was not on the roads, among the people of the constituency for more than seven hours.
Her campaigning marks Maryam’s announced plunge in the political field. She might have delayed her official launch in the political arena, had Nawaz Sharif and Begum Kulsoom been around to take up the electioneering. The poll is very important for Maryam’s future political career.
The electoral outcome will further demonstrate how far the aggressive line that the deposed premier adopted against the uninterrupted disregard of the sanctity of vote and unceremonious, premature expelling of all the prime ministers during his four-day GT Road travel in a cavalcade immediately after his disqualification touched the emotions of the people specifically the electorate of NA-120. Nawaz Sharif’s case will be in the people’s court on Sunday as the political sovereigns are the best judge to decide the political future and destiny of a politician.
In her campaign trail, Maryam pursued the non-conforming strategy unfolded by her father, and repeatedly slammed the puppet and surrogate of others without naming him but the target was known to all and sundry without a doubt. This is the well-considered PML-N approach that will be followed in the campaign for the 2018 general elections.
The result will also unmask the effect of the absence of Hamza Sharif, who has been the PML-N’s main pointman in successive by-elections in Punjab. He did not take part in the campaign even for a single day and left Pakistan at its very start.
It will become clear how far the total absence of a contesting candidate (Begum Kulsoom in this case) from the campaign and the constituency since the announcement of poll schedule was relevant or irrelevant at the end of the day. She did not even personally file her nomination papers but some other PML-N leaders did that on her behalf. Before Maryam formally kicked off her canvassing, her mother left for London for treatment and will be there even on the polling day and even after for some time due to her illness.
Similarly, Nawaz Sharif, who joined his wife after a week of her departure for Britain, was unable to visit the constituency even once to extend a helping hand to his daughter in the campaign. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif also stayed away from any kind of involvement in the electioneering.
Not only all poll surveys but people at large strongly believe that Begum Kulsoom will win hands down. Nawaz Sharif’s Supreme Court-sanctioned disqualification raised the political profile of the PML-N and generated sympathy for him. But the question that has been debated relates to the margin of her victory. It has been argued that the bigger the lead, the severer impact will be at the political level.
Last time in the 2013 general elections, Nawaz Sharif had defeated Dr Yasin Rashid with a lead of 39,329 votes with the former getting 91,683 ballots and the latter bagging 52,354 ballots. The ex-premier always won this seat for decades whenever he contested it. When he could not vie for it for any reason, his nominee secured it comfortably.
The PTI nominee also worked hard to clinch the seat and mainly focused on the door-to-door campaign that she kick-started much before Maryam’s. However, this was the first-ever election campaign that was not directly participated by PTI Chairman Imran Khan because he like all federal and provincial legislators was barred from joining it under the code of conduct. However, he did hold a public meeting and also led a rally in Lahore outside of NA-120 to buoy up the prospects of his candidate. But both the events were lackluster in terms of the turnout, which clearly reflected the negative impact of the Panama case on his politics.
Like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) supremos Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal also could not contribute to their contestant’s campaign by directly jumping into the fray in this constituency.