LAHORE: It’s not often that a person can win an election without even appearing in public, but then, not everyone is the ‘widow’ to a former prime minister’s political career.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate for NA-120 Kulsoom Nawaz on Sunday easily won her husband’s former seat, which was vacated after Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification under the Supreme Court verdict in the Panama Papers case.
According to unofficial and unverified polling data, Kulsoom’s margin of victory will be significantly lower than her husband’s in 2013, though that may also be because of low voter turnout. Estimates suggest Kulsoom secured 59,413 votes in all, while the runner-up, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Dr Yasmin Rashid, had 46,145. Though Rashid lost by 13,268 votes, the results were better than PTI’s performance in the constituency during the 2013 elections against a stronger candidate.
Another unexpected outcome of the by-election was that Sheikh Muhammad Yaqoob — an independent candidate backed by Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s (JuD) unregistered political party Milli Muslim League (MML) — got more votes than the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidate. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had not formally notified the results when this report was filed.
Giving a victory speech from her Model Town residence, the former prime minister’s daughter Maryam Nawaz told her supporters that they had accomplished a big feat, fighting not only against those seldom seen in the consistency but also against the ‘unseen forces’.
She said PML-N’s victory from NA-120 showed that people had rejected the ‘unjust decision’ to disqualify Nawaz Sharif and all conspiracies against the government. She said the people had given their decision upon the disqualification – that they would continue to revere Nawaz Sharif as prime minister of Pakistan.
Despite her own party running the federal, provincial and local governments, Maryam alleged that kidnapping of key workers from the constituency was the reason behind its fewer votes than before.
She said the 60,000 votes the PML-N had bagged were equivalent to six million since its important activists were either missing or had received ‘anonymous phone calls’. She said an activist, Amjad Nazir Butt, was picked by unknown masked men and was still missing. Concerned at the situation, she called the union council chairman who assured her not to worry, she said. She said PML-N workers had told her that they had looked dictators in the eyes and these hardships would not scare them.
The allegations made by Maryam, surprisingly, were not confirmed by the Punjab government. A senior official said only one worker had gone missing on Saturday and was back home by Sunday. He said he had no information about abduction of PML-N workers.
Maryam also claimed that voters with PML-N receipts had been told that their votes were registered elsewhere, whereas when they returned with the information slips issued by the PTI, they were welcomed in the polling stations and even facilitated. She said these tactics did not deter the PML-N voters from voting for the party. When the crowd gathered outside her family residence shouted slogan against PTI chief Imran Khan, she said it was a time for him to cry.
Maryam said that these elections were between Nawaz Sharif and the undemocratic forces. The victory of the PML-N had proved that the right to rule would stay with the people of the country, she said.
“This victory has defeated all the hidden hands conspiring against Nawaz Sharif. Wining under such circumstances proves that there is and there will be Nawaz Sharif for many years to come,” she said.
She took a pledge from the people of supporting Nawaz Sharif in the fight for the supremacy of the democratic system and to fight the conspiracies against him.
She appealed to the people to pray for her mother’s health and said she would be available to serve the residents of the constituency. She conveyed a message of congratulation from Nawaz Sharif to the crowd.
A large number of jubilant workers had gathered to hear the speech.
Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif congratulated Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, the people and party leaders and workers. He said her triumph depicted the public confidence in the leadership and performance of the PML-N. He prayed for quick recuperation of Kulsoom so that she could visit the people of the constituency.
Speaking to media after the unofficial and unverified results became known, PTI’s Rashid expressed her gratitude to citizens of NA-120 and her party’s workers, supporters and well-wishers for their untiring support.
She said her party would announce its future course of action in a presser on Monday (today). The PTI will be moving courts against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) over its ‘failure’ to purge 29,000 unverified votes from NA-120. She underscored that the battle between her party and the ECP would continue till the commission limited itself to its independent and nonpartisan role.
She said she would not accept the by-election results till the ECP announced a verdict about the 29,000 unverified voters.
Though the ruling party secured its lost seat, its vote bank had been broken, she said, adding that contesting by-elections against ruling party candidates was always an uphill task.
PTI leader Ejaz Chaudhry said Rashid had successfully contested the election against the federal, provincial and district governments and proved that the party and its vote bank had grown manifold. “I believe the PML-N should leave the government if it claims that its workers are missing during their own rule,” he said.
NA-120 has remained a stronghold of the ruling PML-N since 1985 when Nawaz Sharif won from here but chose to vacate the seat as he opted to become the Punjab chief minister.
Deposed premier Sharif won from the constituency thrice. Earlier, the same area fell in NA-95, but in the 2002 delimitation, various areas of NA-95 and NA-96 were clubbed together to form NA-120. Federal Minister for Commerce and Textile Pervaiz Malik won elections from there during the Musharraf rule.
In 2008, Kulsoom Nawaz’s nephew Bilal Yasin won from the constituency.
According to ECP data, 321,786 voters – 179,642 male and 142,144 female – were registered in one of the most densely populated constituencies of Lahore. As many as 44 candidates contested the by-election.
For the first time in the country, the ECP used biometric verification machines to authenticate voters during Sunday’s polling.
The commission provided 100 biometric verification machines at 39 polling stations out of the total 220 as a test case. A representative of the company that provided the machine, Secure Tech Consultancy, revealed that 28 per cent voting turnaround was witnessed at the biometric-enabled polling stations. He said 95% of the voters who cast their votes at these polling stations were electronically verified through the NADRA database.