On the NA-120 campaign trail

September 15, 2017
By Naveen Ali
Blog - Pakistan

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, addressing to a rally towards Datta Darbar regarding NA-120 by-polls. Photo:INP

As the political campaigns for NA-120 came to an official halt Friday midnight, electoral activity in the hotly contested constituency of Lahore came to an end.

Initially, eight political parties showed the most promise, out of the 44 contestants. However, as the days moved closer to the elections, only three – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, and Pakistan People’s Party – were able to maintain their political vitality.

This constituency that lays in the heart of old Lahore, has been a bastion of the PML-N, which has managed to retain it in the last 30 years. Yet, rival PTI is putting up a spirited fight.

The PTI’s returning candidate Dr Yasmin Rashid and PPP’s Faisal Mir relied on door-to-door campaigns to convince voters who may be on the fence. While PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz Sharif, who was leading her mother’s campaign, held daily meetings at the party secretariat in Model Town, but was rarely seen on the roads, due to security concerns. Once the meetings would conclude, her convoys of a few cars would then snake through the narrow lanes of the constituency, gathering supporters. By night, at least a few hundred people would could be seen walking beside her vehicle.

Maryam Nawaz daughter of former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif addressing on election campaign rally regarding NA-120 by election. Photo:INP

In a constituency that has remained faithful to her father, it was not unusual to see her being showered with rose petals and speeches punctuated with loud slogans. While reporting for Geo News, I regularly interacted with some of the local residents. Interestingly when speaking to the camera, they criticised the PML-N-led government for not paying attention to their daily needs, such as water and infrastructure development. But just when Maryam Nawaz would arrive, the same men and women would go to great extents to catch a glimpse of the heir apparent.

In the opposing camp, Dr Yasmin Rashid arrived every day at 11am and then moved on foot from house to house, knocking on doors, personally asking for votes. People welcomed her into their homes. Served her biscuits and tea. They told her in length about their concerns and problems and she listened, as intently as she could, taking notes. One such interaction has stayed with me: While visiting a residence, an old woman, a widow, pulled Rashid aside. She had tears in her eyes narrating that none of her children had a full-time job. Distressed, one of her sons even attempted to commit suicide. A shaken Rashid promised to help, even if she doesn’t win.

Then there is Faisal Mir, who despite being at a severe disadvantage kept his campaign running. When Mir moved door-to-door, people routinely complain to him about the PPP and its past policies. He tried to counter the criticism directed at his party leaders. They then reminded him of their love for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his daughter.

In the last ten days, all three parties adopted a different approach to campaigning. Some demanded loyalty, others pleaded emotionally, while some attempted to correct the past.

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