Nawaz Sharif’s traditional constituency in Lahore is giving out mixed signals, both in favour as well as against the PML-N
Anarkali experiences its usual hustle and bustle -- motorcyclists and rickshaws squeezing through tight spaces, navigating through a maze of carts on either side and the occasional puddle, and various shops selling "I love Pakistan" t-shirts, hats and small flags for the Independence Day a week from now.
There aren’t any overt signs of political campaigning yet in Anarkali or any other area falling in NA 120, the historical constituency of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. By-elections will be held here in September to fill Sharif’s vacant seat in the National Assembly. Yet the usual cacophony of posters with the candidates’ faces and election symbols asking for a vote is missing.
The areas falling within NA 120 are: Islampura, Bilal Gunj, New Anarkali, Urdu Bazaar, Hall Road, Cooper Road, Mayo Hospital, Sanda, Mozang, Kareem Park, Lower Mall, Lake Road, Shahrah-i-Fatima Jinnah, Moj Darya Road, Lytton Road, Chauburji, Rajgarh, Riwaz Garden, Sanat Nagar, Ram Nagar, Dave Samaaj Road, Sham Nagar, Sanda, Civil Secretariat, Prem Nagar, Bund Road, Ravi Colony, Kasurpura, Khokhar Town and Mominpura.
It also comprises of PP-139 and PP-140 from which Bilal Yasin and Majid Zahoor won the provincial seats in 2013.
The lack of posters can be understood though because both the major contenders in the area -- PML-N and PTI -- have not yet announced their candidates formally. But campaigning has started as provincial assembly electives and union council members from both parties have started holding corner meetings with people in different areas.
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The constituents are also getting ready to vote in the election. "We are thinking what to do next. We will hold a meeting with different members of the area and then come up with a unanimous decision on who to vote for," says Malik Tariq.
He previously campaigned for the PML-N but refuses to say which way his vote will fall this time. Tariq, who was compensated by the government for losing his family home under the Orange Line project, says the money was a blessing in disguise for his family.
Most of the people in the area are despondent, saying they don’t really expect anything from any politician anymore. "None of these people came to our aid when we were in trouble and have basically ruined the middle class in the area with their project," says Nusrat Bano, 54, who feels the entire project has caused much harm to the people of the area.
Shafqat Ali, a resident of Kapurthala in NA 120, says we will serve tea to whoever comes to campaign but will send him back without promising him a vote. "I am against everyone. Yasmin Rashid did not come here to campaign. She might say she came but we live here and have not seen her," he laughs, adding he will not be voting for anyone.
Elsewhere in the constituency, the sentiment is different. Muhammad Zahid Akram, 40, who lives on the Outfall Road, says: "I will vote for the PML-N openly and in full confidence." He has been happy with the performance of his elected representatives, all of whom are from the PML-N. "Their councillors are always available and have solved numerous problems in our area," he says, adding that they put up a transformer in their street and fixed a sewage problem.
To him, Panama doesn’t matter. "All of these politicians are thieves". For him, Imran Khan’s way of addressing people is "disrespectful", and so he can never be a leader.
Most of the PML-N voters say they have always voted for him, and will continue to do so. "Imran Khan is too arrogant for people to like him," says Mian Imran, who lives on Ravi Road. He doesn’t dismiss the Panama judgment but says he would rather wait for the NAB to complete its inquiry before he makes up his mind about allegations of corruption against Sharif.
"It is hard to predict what will happen," says Suhail Warraich, journalist and political analyst. "NA 120 is considered a ‘safe seat’ for Sharif. He has always contested the election from here. This is where their old house used to be. So they have a strong vote bank."
He adds though that the PTI is likely to give them a tough competition. This was seen in the union council election that took place in October 2015. The PTI candidates won 17 seats in areas that fall in NA 120.
Counting the votes of all union councils falling within NA 120, the PTI got a total of 38,000 votes while the PML-N got 52,000 votes. In the last general election as well, an area where the PML-N has always had an easy win, the PTI lost with a margin of 39,345 votes.
Some voters have changed their opinion about the PML-N because of Sharif’s disqualification. Jamil Raza, from Sanda Islampura, says he wants Nawaz Sharif to bring back the money he has stolen. "He has put the country in debt and we want him to stop spending lavishly".
He says he has not decided who he will vote for in the next election. "But it will not be PML-N".