NA-120: A watershed elections

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Mansoor Akbar Kundi
THE elections scheduled on 17th September 2017 for the National Assembly seat — NA-120 vacated by the disqualification of Mian Nawaz Sharif as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in July 2017 by the five-member Supreme Court bench are of immense importance for the two leading contending political parties: Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). To be formally occupied for the remaining tenure of even less than one year before the routine completion of the National Assembly five-year tenure, if allowed, nevertheless, the elections’ outcome is anxiously awaited. It will determine the future direction of the country’s politics in three different aspects.
First, it will determine the future popularity of the PML-N, a Party which still enjoys popularity in the country by claiming a larger vote bank which drove it into power in Punjab, the lion’s share province of Pakistan as well as in Balochistan as coalition partners. PML-N is anyhow a political force in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and holds footing inside and outside the Assembly. The Centre, the Party also swept elections for Azad Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly.
Lahore serves as a de jure capital of Punjab power politics as well as de facto seat of power and influence under Sharif brothers. Lahore cannot be denied as a city of Sharif brothers’ political sphere and their like-minded politicians’ influence. Top ranked civilian and military bureaucracy hail from Lahore and its surrounding cities. Under the Shahbaz Sharif’s Chief Ministership huge expenses have been made in the development and beautification of the city’s infrastructure. They claim Lahore as their frontline constituency. In case of PML-N losing the elections, it will be a big blow to its status quo and aspirations. They may lose Punjab in future which has been pivot of their whole politics if not gamble. In other words’ it will be a Waterloo for PML-N politics in the years to come. It will be a tantamount to voters’ alienation from whatever happened to the party leader.
Second, it is an exhibition of Maryum Nawaz’s leadership qualities. Maryum under the circumstances is the only available and viable political heir of Nawaz Sharif to save his edifice of power. During the last four years of Nawaz’s premiership she was assumed as de facto Prime Minister. In his likes and dislikes she was next to Nawaz. And there is nothing wrong with it if analyzed under the hereditary framework of South Asian politics where the major sources of leadership are hereditary and traditional. Maryam Nawaz having inherited a strong political ground with her and uncle father being Chief and Prime Ministers will have rather easy time to accomplish herself in politics than Benazir Bhutto had in the wake of her father’s removal. She needs political maturity, patience and courage with an independent visionary approach.
In fact those familiar with the country’s politics realize that Nawaz’s innings is over. He can better patronize and support his daughter in future politics provided she proves leadership qualities by facing the challenges. She is so far callow in politics. Maryum is trying to play a good innings on a good pitch. She seems participant and going as gadfly from door to door to garner support for the candidate, her mother who is critically sick and has undergone major surgery. Kulsoom Nawaz is a symbolic and countering candidate against Yasmeen Rashid who enjoys popularity and standing amongst public, if not necessarily voters. She carries the reputation, both myth and reality, for being a tough lady to have countered Gen. Musharaf once her husband was ousted from power in a military coup in October 1999.
Under the circumstance she was the possible best candidate to contest NA 120 from where a lady with popularity and respect dares to balance her victory this time. She posed a close contest in 2013 elections by securing 52354 votes against 91,682 of Nawaz Sharif. Many believe that Kulsoom Nawaz will have a sympathetic edge which I doubt. Her sickness and non-participant role will have a rather negative reflection in garnering votes. To me, she will lose votes in elections. The voters of the NA-120 in large are participant and have better understanding of the situation.
Third, in case PTI wins, it will be a landmark victory for Imran Khan and his party in the future elections. No matter whatever differences one may have with PTI or its leadership, the main credit for disqualifying Nawaz Sharif on corruption charges goes to Imran Khan. He showed unending and tireless efforts for mobilizing mass support and media against Nawaz. He played his legal inning well. Imran himself is active in Lahore politics. Imran seems to have mobilized all party efforts to support its party candidate. PTI will have to leave no stone unturned to win its candidate. The chances of PTI’s success would have been higher had there been support from Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) but they are politically apart with mud slinging on each other.
The PPP does not have any chances of winning the constituency but can measure its popularity gauge in central Punjab where once Bhuttos enjoyed massive support. PPP as a national party has to make whatever possible support they can mobilise in its favour. Politics is a game in which ultimate aim for players is to secure power and exert influence. Under representative system the parties flexing muscles show their voters’ strength in elections. For some, it is a matter of alliance and bargaining. NA-120 is no exception to the general rule, but it is an election of do or die for PML-N. It will be a bad omen for PML-N politics in case they loose it.
— The writer is Professor, Dept of Politics & International Relations, International Islamic University, Islamabad
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