The PML-N has achieved success in securing the seat vacated after the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister in the NA-120 by-poll. The margin of the victory of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, Nawaz Sharif’s substitute, had shrunk to 14,647 votes from Nawaz’s 39,345 in the 2013 general elections.
The outcome of the NA-120 by-poll demonstrates the following:-
1: The Sharifs have regained the seat but the close contest has been disconcerting to both the ruling PML-N and the Sharif family. Despite the advantage of having a government both at the centre and the province, the PML-N was not able to win the seat with the expected margin. It shows that the popularity of Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N has decreased many times over after the Panama verdict.
2: Both the PML-N and the PTI, the main opposition party, ran their campaign around the apex court’s Panama verdict. During the campaign, the PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz completely rejected the apex court’s verdict and sought the absolution of her father from the “people’s court”. While, the PTI and Imran Khan urged the people to vote in favour of the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif by the apex court. The PML-N and Maryam Nawaz Sharif are, now, projecting the victory as a decision of Pakistan’s people in favour of the deposed prime minister.
“Not only have NA-120 voters rejected the Supreme Court’s decision, but also rejected the court’s spokesmen. Voters have given a decision on a decision, which is that our prime minister is still Nawaz Sharif”, Maryam Nawaz said after the results.
3: After sensing and seeing the anger, contempt and disappointment of the voters against the disgraced Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N and Maryam Nawaz used every method to secure this seat. They used the illness of Kulsoom Nawaz for eliciting sympathies of the people. But, the sympathy card has not worked effectively enough in the constituency, because the PML-N’s Kulsoom Nawaz could not win with a landslide. The PML-N has also used money to buy votes in the constituency. According to some TV anchors, the PML-N offered thirty thousand per vote in the constituency.
4: Maryam Nawaz headed the election campaign, which clearly marks her formal entry in politics in Pakistan. Before this, Maryam was taking part in the PML-N’s politics behind the scenes. But, with this campaign, she has come forward openly. The election was her first test which she passed after securing the seat. It is a good sign that a woman is coming to lead the party in the coming days in Pakistan.
5: There is also a power struggle in the Sharif family. The absence of Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza from the country during the election campaign clearly shows that there is a rift in the Sharif family. There are also widening cracks within the PML-N. Chaudhary Nisar’s statements against Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Maryam Nawaz indicate that the PML-N has developed some serious cracks. Zahid Hussain writes: “It is apparent that her (Maryam Nawaz) growing assertiveness has intensified the power struggle within the party. The cleavage between the two Sharif brothers and their children is no more a secret…. For sure, Maryam’s ascendancy is perhaps more divisive at a time when the party needs greater unity in its ranks. What irks many critics inside and outside the party is her senseless entitlement and claim to dynastic power. Another point that may go against Maryam is her indictment by NAB trial court on charges of forgery. All this does not bode well for the pretender to the throne”.
6: There is no doubt about that the PTI’s Dr. Yasmeen Rashid had gone door to door for getting votes in her campaign. Due to her profession and good character, Dr. Yasmeen had already earned the respect and love of the people of the constituency. But, it is also a fact that “Dr Yasmeen Rashid was virtually left on her own with no senior party leader helping her in the campaign except in a couple of rallies at the end”. It shows that there are some leaders in the PTI who would not like to see Dr. Yasmeen Rashid as an elected national assembly member from Lahore.
However, the PTI Chairman Imran Khan thanked party workers, especially women, “who worked tirelessly in the election campaign”, in a Twitter message. “Applaud courage and determination with which Dr. Yasmin Rashid fought NA-120 election against federal, provincial and local government backed PML-N with their massive funds.”
7: It was also instructive to watch two women, one a doctor and from the middle class, while the other a daughter of the deposed prime minister and from an elite class, lead their parties’ respective campaigns in NA-120 in Lahore. It shows the purpose and promise of Pakistani women in politics. It is a healthy sign of the democratic process and political culture in the country.
8: Two new religious parties, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (the TLP) — which is supported by the hardliner Sunni Brelvis — and the Milli Muslim League (the MML), which is supported by Jamat ud Dawa (the JuD ), made their political debuts in the election. The TLP leader Sheikh Azhar Hussain Rizvi bagged 7,130 votes and secured third position while the MML leader Muhammad Yaqoob Sheikh secured the fourth position by bagging 5,822 votes.
The TLB leadership hails Mumtaz Qadri, who killed former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in 2011, as a hero. During the election campaign, the TLP had slogans that “only Islam and Sharia should be implemented in Pakistan and ignored religious minorities”.
The MML’s campaign for its candidate Sheikh Yaqoob was very impressive. The MML used modern technology to promote its candidate. It also used social media, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc., very expertly. Its slogans were “Islam is a religion which appreciates science, technology and development”. The MML severely criticised India and condemned the PML-N for its soft stance on India and Indian held-Kashmir.
During the campaign, the TLP just tried to bag the Sunni votes while the MML used Indian Held Kashmir issue and India’s animosity against Pakistan to get votes. It shows that the MML has more knowledge about the geo-politics of the region.
The appearance of Mumtaz Qadri as a hero in the poll campaign clearly suggests that the threat of extremism is very grave in Pakistan. There are many images circulating on social media which show that small children are saluting Qadri’s grave. The TLP and the MML will get more votes in the next 2018 elections.
9: Jamat-i-Islami’s candidate Zia uddin Ansari got 592 votes which shows that the JI has lost its popularity among the people. In spite of Siraj Ul Huq’s petition against Nawaz Sharif in the Panama Case, the JI could not bag reasonable votes in the NA 120 by-election, which is very sad omen for the party in the coming elections.
10: The PPP candidate Faisal Mir secured around 1,000 votes and remained in fifth position. There is no doubt that the PPP has lost its popularity and support in the Punjab. Under the leadership of Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP has become a provincial party. It has its power and popularity only in Sindh, which is very tragic for a party that once trumpeted itself as the chain that bound together all the provinces.
After the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif and rifts in the Sharif family and the party, the PTI will be able to get more seats in the Punjab in the coming general elections. If it happens, then the PTI will have every chance to form the next federal government under the premiership of Imran Khan.