LAHORE: Judgement day has finally arrived at Lahore’s NA-120 constituency as residents vote tomorrow (Sunday) in a landmark by-poll that will reverberate far beyond the constituency.
Some 44 contestants are taking part but key contestants are Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Kulsoom Nawaz, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Dr Yasmin Rashid and Pakistan People’s Party’s Faisal Mir.
It is ironic that none of these major candidates’ votes are registered in NA-120.
Following Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification on July 28, which was seen as a vindication of PTI’s position on the Panama Papers, this by-election has become a litmus test for both parties’ fortunes on the road to the general election next year.
Normally, by-elections generate little public interest, low voter turnout, and tend to favour the incumbent. But, with Nawaz Sharif’s dismissal and corruption cases against the Sharif family, PTI candidate Dr Yasmin Rashid is counting on a change in public sentiment to produce an upset with far-reaching consequences for both parties.
Maryam Nawaz, campaigning on behalf of her mother, has stuck to her father’s strategy of invoking ‘the people’s court’ in response to the July 28 Supreme Court decision.
NA-120 has been a Sharif stronghold since the mid-’80s, and remained loyal to PML-N—even in Nawaz’s years of exile during the Musharraf era.
In the 2013 general election, Nawaz, with 91,666 votes, easily defeated Dr Yasmin, who got 52,354 votes, though this was his smallest ever margin of victory here.
Maryam, who has never campaigned for a seat before, is counting on continuing this trend to score a double victory—exoneration for her father and legitimacy for herself. And while the most likely result is a PML-N victory, even a win by a reduced margin would be interpreted as a loss of vital political space for PML-N.
But a win for PTI would deliver a serious blow to PML-N’s election plans and likely spell the political end of at least some members of the Sharif family.
While Maryam has sold PML-N’s mega development projects and cultivated a sense of the family being wronged through an elaborate conspiracy to woo voters, Dr Yasmin has focused on the Sharif family’s corruption and clear lack of attention to the area’s basic civic needs to appeal to the constituency, which has an 80 per cent literacy rate.
The polling will begin at 8am amid strict security measures assured by the government. Army personnel have been on guard at all polling stations since Saturday night, as all stations have been declared sensitive, and strict security measures are also in place at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) regional office. Moreover, no one—apart from presiding officers—will be allowed inside the building.
NA-120 constitutes of 321,786 voters of which 56 per cent are male. According to ECP, a total of 350,000 ballot papers were printed for the by-poll. ECP has set up 220 polling stations to cater to these voters along with installing biometric voting machines at 39 stations—purely on trial basis.
NA-120 constituency harbours localities of Mall Road, Queens Road, Lower Mall, Lake Road, Mouj Darya Road, Lytton Road, Civil Secretariat, Chauburji, Rajgarh, Riwaz Garden, Karim Park, Islampura, Bilal Gunj, New and Old Anarkali, Urdu Bazaar, Hall Road, Cooper Road, Sanda, Sanat Nagar, Dev Samaaj Road, Sham Nagar, Sanda and Prem Nagar, while the underprivileged areas in the constituency are Mohni Road, Gulshan-e-Riaz, Khokhar Town, Ravi Colony, Malipura, Kasurpura, Mominpura, Ganjian De Ghatti and Nisbat Road.
ECP, despite trying, remained ineffective in regulating the campaigns in the constituency.
On Friday, the Commission served notices to PML-N and PTI for violating its code of conduct.
PML-N minister Bilal Yasin, nephew of Kulsoom Nawaz, disregarded ECP notice once; for which he was served again but that did not discourage him, or any of the others, from continuing to defy ECP. He even went on to say that he is ready to give up his [MPA] seat for the victory of Kulsoom.
ECP also served notices to State Minister for Interior Affairs Talal Chaudhry, Senator Pervez Rasheed, MNAs Shaista Pervaiz Malik, Maiza Hameed and Rukhsana Kokab, and MPA Saiful Malook Khokhar for their pro-Kulsoom statements, which violated the code of conduct. PTI lawmakers Mehmood Rasheed and Sadia Sohail Rana were also served notices by the ECP.
According to the code of conduct of the ECP, sitting ministers and MPs cannot engage in political activities in the NA-120 constituency ahead of the by-poll. The commission asked all the lawmakers to appear before the commission on September 20.