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