In elec­tion test, ousted Nawaz’ heir-ap­par­ent takes lime­light

Financial Chronicle - - FUNDAMENTALS, POLITICS -

IN cam­paign­ing for a Pak­istan by-elec­tion seen as a test of sup­port for ousted Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif, the most vis­i­ble fig­ure is not on the ballot: Sharif’s daugh­ter, Maryam, widely touted as his po­lit­i­cal heir-ap­par­ent.

This past week­end, crowds mobbed Maryam’s car as she criss­crossed La­hore cam­paign­ing for her mother, Kul­soom, who is the rul­ing Pak­istan Mus­lim League-Nawaz (PMLN) can­di­date to con­test the seat Nawaz was forced to va­cate by a Supreme Court rul­ing in July. With Kul­soom in Lon­don for can­cer surgery, ac­com­pa­nied by Nawaz, 43-year-old Maryam has led the cam­paign with fiery speeches de­nounc­ing Nawaz’s op­po­nents and the SC. Her in­flu­ence within the PML-N has grown in re­cent years, with se­nior party fig­ures cred­it­ing her with Nawaz’s move to em­brace rel­a­tively more pro-women and lib­eral causes in a staunchly con­ser­va­tive na­tion of 208 mil­lion peo­ple. In a rare in­ter­view to Reuters, Maryam out­lined what drives her po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions as she emerges from her fa­ther’s shadow to be­come a prom­i­nent fig­ure in the rul­ing party he still con­trols. “I’m proud to be the torch bearer of ide­ol­ogy which PML-N has,” Maryam said in La­hore, her fa­ther’s elec­toral power base. “I am (Nawaz’s) re­flec­tion, I am his ex­ten­sion. I have grown up es­pous­ing his agenda, his ide­ol­ogy.” Maryam has framed the elec­tion as a chance for vot­ers to protest the Supreme Court’s ver­dict against her fa­ther and help the PML-N flex its elec­toral mus­cle. “Your vote was dis­re­spected and dis­re­garded, will you an­swer to this dis­re­spect on Sept 17?” Maryam asked at a rally. The by-elec­tion is seen as a lit­mus test for the PML-N’s po­lit­i­cal for­tunes in the wake of Nawaz’s ouster, and an early indi­ca­tor of voter sen­ti­ment ahead of a gen­eral elec­tion next year.

On her com­par­isons with Be­nazir Bhutto, who vied for power with Nawaz for over two decades. “I have a lot of re­spect for the lady, but ... the only thing com­mon be­tween us is gen­der,” she said.

Op­po­si­tion leader Im­ran Khan, on the as­cen­dancy af­ter Nawaz’s ouster, and ea­ger to make in­roads into the PML-N’s base in Pun­jab, has ac­cused Maryam of ben­e­fit­ing from al­leged cor­rup­tion swirling around her fa­ther, and cast the by-elec­tion as a plebiscite on cor­rup­tion. “This elec­tion will de­cide where the peo­ple of Pak­istan stand,” Khan, the leader of Pak­istan Tehreeke-In­saf (PTI) told crowds in La­hore last week.

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