The verdict in Lahore’s NA-120 by-election, the crucial seat vacated by Nawaz Sharif with his disqualification as Prime Minister by the Supreme Court, was never really in doubt. Clearly, the immediate family’s alleged involvement in the Panama case and the discord within the extended family over the succession issue have not influenced the outcome of Sunday’s election in the heartland of the PML-N, indeed the dominant province of Pakistan.
It has without question been a decisive victory for Sharif’s wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, now battling throat cancer in London. In the moment of triumph, however, few will readily concur with daughter Maryam Sharif’s rhetorical chant, “Voters have given a decision on a decision, which is that our Prime Minister is still Nawaz Sharif. Not only have the voters rejected the Supreme Court’s decision, but also the response of the court’s spokesmen.”
The starry-eyed euphoria of the Nawaz family cannot denude the importance of the apex court verdict, however. The former Prime Minister’s involvement in the Panama scandal and his party’s victory in the by-election are two very different propositions.
Fairly clear are the contours of the emerging political spectrum ~ Dr Yasmin Rashid of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has captured the second slot and it has been a close contest with the PML(N), the ultimate victor. No less critically the Milli Muslim League (MML), controlled by the LeT chief, Hafeez Sayeed, has been ranked third in the contest for the National Assembly.
Yet it is early days to speculate whether the party with a terrorist at the helm, is on course to be part of the political mainstream. Markedly, the PPP’s candidate, Faisal Mir, was fourth ~ an indication of the slump in the former ruling party’s popularity.
On closer reflection, the by-election in Lahore was a test of support for the Sharif family. On that count, it may have won the electoral round, reinforced by the massive celebrations in Punjab province on Monday. Less easily obfuscated is the disqualification of the former PM and the damning verdict of the judiciary.
Maryam, also involved in the case, has made a strained attempt to debunk the court order from the same balcony in Model Town from which Nawaz Sharif had given his victory speech in 2013. A parliamentary by-election across the Radcliffe Line would not ordinarily have been of much moment. But NA-120 was a highly contested election, verily a litmus test to ascertain how the Supreme Court verdict had affected those who have elected Nawaz to office thrice since 1990… despite the political turbulence. A total of 44 candidates contested for the National Assembly seat from Lahore, with three major contenders.
In Maryam’s reckoning, it was a contest between PML (N) versus “All”, the forbidding challenge being the military establishment. She must be acutely aware that the outcome of the general election next year is still open to question though the PML(N) may not be on a sticky wicket.