Key by-polls start, putting Sharif loy­alty to cru­cial test

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

LA­HORE: Pak­ista­nis be­gan cast­ing votes yes­ter­day for the par­lia­men­tary seat va­cated by ousted Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif, in a by-elec­tion seen as a test of sup­port for the Sharif dy­nasty ahead of the 2018 gen­eral elec­tion.

Mr Sharif ’s rul­ing Pak­istan Mus­lim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party hopes a re­sound­ing vic­tory in in the eastern city of La­hore would show that sup­port for the fam­ily was undi­min­ished de­spite the Supreme Court’s re­moval of Mr Sharif in July.

Mr Sharif’s daugh­ter, Maryam, has spear­headed the PML-N cam­paign for her mother, Kul­soom — who is the PML-N can­di­date de­spite re­ceiv­ing can­cer treat­ment in Lon­don.

Maryam Sharif, who some PML-N lead­ers see as a fu­ture leader, has framed the poll as a chance for vot­ers to give a bloody nose to the ju­di­ciary by hand­ing the party a thump­ing vic­tory.

“Will you take re­venge for your dis­re­spected vote?” she asked sup­port­ers at a re­cent rally.

Op­po­si­tion l eader Im­ran Khan — whose threats of street protests pushed the Supreme Court to launch a probe into Nawaz Sharif’s wealth — is seek­ing to build on the suc­cess of his anti-graft cru­sade by mak­ing in­roads into Mr Shar­ifs’ power base in Pun­jab.

The Supreme Court in July dis­qual­i­fied Mr Sharif be­cause he did not de­clare a monthly salary, equiv­a­lent to US$2,722, from a com­pany owned by his son when the veteran leader, who had held power twice in the 1990s, be­came prime min­is­ter for the third time. Mr Sharif de­nies re­ceiv­ing the salary.

Mr Khan has turned the by-elec­tion into a plebiscite about cor­rup­tion, and has ac­cused the pro­vin­cial Pun­jab gov­ern­ment, which is run by Mr Nawaz’s brother, Shah­baz, of abus­ing state re­sources to help the PML-N cam­paign.

“Your prime min­is­ter owns some of the most ex­pen­sive real es­tate in the world — all in his daugh­ter’s name. Mean­while half the chil­dren of this coun­try are mal­nour­ished,” Mr Khan told a rally on Sat­ur­day.

An­a­lysts pre­dict PML-N will win again but they say Mr Khan’s party would build mo­men­tum ahead of the 2018 poll if PTI can­di­date Yas­min Rashid, a gy­ne­col­o­gist from the area, re­duces the PML-N’s 40,000 vote-win­ning mar­gin from 2013.

“PTI would be very happy if the mar­gin ended up be­ing small. That would be a vic­tory for them,” said Hasan Askri, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst.

Many of the 321,633 reg­is­tered vot­ers in the cen­tral La­hore NA-120 con­situency are con­flicted.

Kul­soom Sharif and Dr Rashid will be com­pet­ing against about 40 other can­di­dates, one backed by a new party that is led by an Is­lamist fire­brand who is sub­ject to a $10-mil­lion bounty of­fered by the United States.

Hafiz Saeed heads the Jam­mat-ud-Dawa char­ity, hav­ing founded and for­merly led the Lashkhar-e-Taiba mil­i­tant group that car­ried out the 2008 Mum­bai at­tacks.

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