Lahore, Pakistan – Ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s wife Kulsoom has won a hotly contested by-election seen as the ruling PML-N party’s first key political challenge following the ex-premier’s recent dismissal.
Kulsoom, 66, comfortably defeated the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidate Yasmin Rashid in the by-poll in the eastern city of Lahore, considered the Sharifs’ political heartland, on Sunday, unofficial results showed.
Earlier in the day, long lines of voters were seen at many of the NA-120 electoral constituency’s 220 polling stations.
Kulsoom was contesting the seat vacated by Nawaz Sharif after his dismissal by the country’s Supreme Court in July over an omission in his parliamentary wealth declarations.
Her campaign has been spearheaded by Maryam Nawaz, the couple’s daughter and Nawaz’ political heir apparent, in her first real foray into electoral politics. Kulsoom herself is undergoing treatment in the United Kingdom for her recently diagnosed lymphoma.
Nawaz Sharif and three of his children, including Maryam, are currently facing a corruption investigation and trial by the country’s anti-corruption watchdog, on the orders of the Supreme Court.
Delivering a victory speech in her mother’s stead, Maryam Nawaz congratulated her party’s workers on the win.
“Today, you have not only fought against those who are visible in the battlefield, but also against those who are invisible,” she said, a veiled hint at the country’s powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for roughly half of its 70-year history since independence.
She said the by-poll result represented a rejection of the Supreme Court’s decision by voters.
“The people have given their verdict on the verdict today,” she told a roaring crowd of hundreds gathered at the Sharif residence in Lahore.
Standing against Kulsoom was the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Yasmin Rashid, a middle-class professional doctor who has mainly campaigned on the Imran Khan-led party’s anti-corruption platform.
The constituency, home to almost half a million of Lahore’s 11 million residents, is deep in the heart of the old city, and is considered a Sharif stronghold. His party has not lost the seat since it began contesting elections in 1985.
“It’s very difficult for them to take this from us,” said Sohail Butt, 48, a PML-N voter in the Mozang area of the city. “In our area, work only gets done if you go through [the PML-N’s] workers.”
Arif Khan, 32, a voter from the working class Bilal Ganj neighbourhood, said he voted for Sharif’s party because of its overhaul of the road, sewerage, and water network in his area.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) voters, meanwhile, appeared to be motivated to vote more on national issues, rather than connection to their party’s local networks.
“I see this is as the first main test for Nawaz Sharif [after his dismissal],” said Zeeshan Khan, 22, a student at Punjab University. “This is a way for the people to show whether they still stand with the PML-N after the verdict.”