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September 20,2017

NA-120 by-election seen as referendum on Nawaz: NYT

Monis Ali

LAHORE: The foreign media gave special coverage to the NA-120 by-poll and said it was considered a referendum on Nawaz Sharif.

According to different media houses, Maryam Nawaz, who has a charismatic personality, ran the campaign successfully in the absence of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz. She could be seen as heir to Nawaz and the future head of PML-N. But there are chances the senior party leader would oppose the move.

The foreign media also reported that powerful institution did not allow observers to access the polling stations, which had a negative effect on polling process. But there is question whether the success would change the ousted premier’s fortunes.

According to Deutsche Welle, the by-election was considered a referendum against the establishment’s role in the country’s politics.

“There was a significant drop in the voter turnout and in votes for Kulsoom, but Sharif's supporters and the country's civil society groups say because of the fact that the country's powerful army had allegedly put its weight behind Khan's party, and that there was a strong media campaign against the Sharif family, the end result was nothing but a historic victory for the beleaguered former prime minister.”

Citing experts, German broadcaster says there were reports of the PML-N supporters being barred from casting their votes, while the PTI was supported by the powerful establishment. There are also reports that some of the party activists were picked up by intelligence agencies. Moreover, there were candidates from some religious parties which have been designated as terrorist organisations by the US.

“Despite the hype around the Panama leaks scandal, some analysts say that former PM Sharif was "victimized" by the country's powerful establishment, which is allegedly backing the opposition parties,” Deutsche Welle reported.

According to ‘The Telegraph’, “A surprisingly close by-election in the stronghold of Pakistan’s ousted prime minister has buoyed opposition hopes that they can dislodge the ruling party in a general election next year.”

“If Imran Khan's opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, can repeat its surge in Lahore across Punjab, Pakistan’s richest and most populous province, the former cricketer has the chance to win power and implement his promised anti-corruption drive,” it added.

“Senior leadership within the PML-N are now likely to further resist any attempt on Mr Sharif’s part to install his daughter as his successor, after she led a controversial campaign that veered daringly close to breaking the taboo of Pakistani politics and directly suggesting the army was behind her father’s removal, said The Telegraph.

On the other hand, Al-Arabia said, “As soon as the news of Kulsoom Nawaz, wife of Pakistan’s deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, winning a crucial by-election started trickling in on Sunday, the most obvious question being asked was the following – does this change anything for Nawaz Sharif’s fortunes?”

“Some political observers in Pakistan say not much can be read into this victory in a by-election and that it should not come as a surprise to anyone,” it added. Japan’s NIKKEI Asian Review says, “Political pundits described Maryam's role in her mother's election campaign as the launch of her political career as heir apparent of her father.”

The Times of India reported, “The support for the Sharif family has, however, diminished as in 2013 general election Nawaz Sharif had defeated Rashid with a margin of more than 41,000.”

“The election to the parliamentary seat was seen as a test for the PML-N party also because it comes ahead of the general election in Pakistan next year,” it added.

The Indian newspaper said, “Some voters complained about the delay they had to endure before they could cast their votes and also that their names were missing from the polling list, while others rued inadequate facilities, such as the lack of electricity at the stations.”

According to the New York Times, the bitterly contested by-election was seen as a referendum on Nawaz. “The election was also notable for the role played by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, one of the most-wanted militant leaders in South Asia. Mr Saeed has lived in the open in Pakistan, despite a $10 million American bounty on his head. Then in recent weeks, he became the face of a new political party campaigning to win Mr Sharif’s seat.”

The Guardian said, “Pakistan’s ruling party has clinched a win in an unusually close race in a normally unassailable stronghold.” “However, for Imran Khan, the failure to beat Sharif at his lowest was not the leap towards prime ministership that he had hoped for,” it added.

The Washington Post in a report published two days before the by-election said, “Precinct 120 is a small pocket of a sprawling city, with less than 340,000 voters amid a hodgepodge of slums, shrines and stately monuments. It is also the electoral heart of a political dynasty that has long ruled Pakistan’s wealthiest, most influential province and made Mian Nawaz Sharif the country’s prime minister three times.”

“The pro-Sharif side is likely to win by a solid margin, polls show, but the race has been skewed by new legal battles for the Sharifs, electoral muscle-testing by religious groups, and a confusing cast of absent and proxy candidates. All of this has distracted attention from the larger struggle for Pakistani democracy at stake,” it added.

“Even a strong showing by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N, analysts said, may not revive its larger fortunes or restore calm as national elections loom next year. Months of upheaval have created a swirl of shifting political forces and revealed deeper institutional struggles,” it added.

The Voice of America (VOA) said, “A by-election this week in Pakistan's second-largest city, Lahore, shows undercurrents of change and possible upheaval in the ruling party that could impact general elections next year. A low voter turnout also suggests that governing and opposition parties alike have an uphill battle to sell their narratives to the public.”

“The election was considered the public debut for Sharif's 43-year-old daughter Maryam Nawaz, who ran the campaign on behalf of her father's Pakistan Muslim League party almost single-handedly.”

“Her uncle, Shahbaz Sharif, the powerful chief minister of Punjab province, as well as his son, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, chose to be outside the country during the crucial campaign period. Many took this as indication of a succession struggle within a family that has survived multiple ousters and a forced exile.”

The VOA also quoted seasoned journalist Nusrat Javeed who said, "Maryam won and Shahbaz lost". “In this election, according to Javed, Maryam was competing not just with the opposition but with powerful members of her own party, including her uncle and the former interior minister Nisar Ali Khan. The by-election victory, Javed suggested, would be a cause for concern for her opponents.”

“While Maryam Nawaz declared her mother's victory as a reaffirmation of Sharif's support, Khan's party said the reduction in the margin of victory on its home turf, from 40,000 votes in 2013 to the current 14,000, showed the public was turning away from the ruling party,” the VOA added.

The Financial Times said, “Kulsoom Nawaz’s victory, albeit with a reduced majority, according to unofficial early results, underlined the resilience of Mr Sharif and his family, who have remained at the centre of Pakistani politics since the 1980s.”

“The victory was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Mrs Nawaz is in London receiving treatment for throat cancer, and has left the campaign to her charismatic daughter Maryam,” it noted.

The newspaper said the ousted prime minister’s opponents “had hoped a ruling by the supreme court in July that he was unfit for office would finally spell the end of his domination of politics in his home state of Punjab and nationally”.

“PML-N supporters hope that Sunday’s victory is a precursor to another general election win next year. If the party does win, Mr Sharif’s brother Shehbaz and his daughter Maryam are two of the favourites to take over,” it said.


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