NA-125 is strategically positioned in the heart of Lahore, stretching from the ancient, decayed Mughal era architecture to the redeveloped overhead bridges and thoroughfares. Its key localities include Anarkali, Islampura, Mozang, Beddon road, Sandah, Mohni road, Mall road till the Governor house, Nasim Park and the area around the famous green-domed Data Darbar shrine. The landscape is that of old, unkempt buildings and houses, narrow, snaky lanes and densely populated neighbourhoods.
Some of the big budgeted infrastructure projects initiated in this constituency, by the outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, include the Metro bus, a rapid bus transit system, the yet-to-be-completed Orange Line Metro train, Pakistan’s first metro train, and the Azadi Chowk flyover.
NA-125 has been catapulted to the forefront of Lahore’s politics, primarily due to its location and electoral history. In 1985, a young politician and businessman named, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, ran a vigorous campaign from this constituency (then NA-86). He won with a thumping majority. Thereon, there was no turning back. In 1993 and 1997, Sharif swept to victory again from the same locality (then NA-95).
Old Lahore was now the stronghold of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Even in 2002, when the elections were held under a military dictator, who did not allow Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan, his trusted confidant Pervaiz Malik bagged the constituency with over 30,000 votes. In 2008, his wife’s nephew and the former provincial minister for food, Bilal Yasin, kept the seat within the family.
In 2013, Nawaz Sharif was back to reclaim his home seat. Election result NA-125 (then NA-120).
In September 2017, after Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court from holding the office of the prime minister, his wife was fielded as a candidate for his vacant seat.
Despite staying loyal to the PML-N for over 30 years, a win in NA-125 does not seem as definitive in the upcoming polls. The first signs of trouble were indicative during the allotment of party tickets. Initially, Nawaz Sharif’s daughter and heir apparent was named for NA-125. But before the campaign could begin, she was replaced by Pervaiz Malik and then by another party leader Waheed Alam Khan. The indecision caused much confusion in the party ranks and delayed its political activities in the constituency. On the other hand, PML-N faces an intriguing battle against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s candidate Yasmin Raashid, who had lost in 2013 by over 39,000 votes but narrowed the gap in 2017 to a margin of only 14,000 votes. Also, Raashid’s preferred arsenal is a door-to-door campaign, which has previously worked to her favour. But none of this can discount PML-N’s incumbency factor, which may still help it cross the line, even if with a low margin of victory.
For the July 25 polls, a total of 14 candidates are in the running.
Total voters in NA- 125: 474,127
Two provincial constituencies fall within its boundaries:
PP-150 – 205,529 voters
PP-149 – 268,598 voters
Muhammad Asim, a medical student: “Of course, I would vote for the PTI. How can anyone vote for the PML-N after Friday’s verdict? This area has always been a PML-N stronghold, but look around you, does anything look right? The roads are dirty and many of our family members do not have jobs.”
Sabir, runs a small convenient store: “Even after Friday’s verdict, I will vote for sher [lion]. Everyone is corrupt in this country, but if I want anything done I can just walk up to Bilal Yasin’s office and tell him. He lives right here, amongst us.” [On Friday, July 6, Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law were found guilty of corruption by an accountability court and convicted to jail. The former prime minister and his family are expected to appeal the judgment in a higher court]
Waheed Alam Khan was the former nazim of Anarkali, which is where he also resides. The politician says him and his son start early in the morning, moving from house to house corralling support, while from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. he holds political gatherings in NA-125 to hear to people’s complaints.
“A major concern in my area is unemployment. Every family I visit wants a job in a government office. But I try to make them understand that that is not possible until the overall economy of Pakistan improves.”
Khan admits that his rival Raashid has been able to narrow the gap of victory from 2013, yet he is confident of a landslide. “Mark my words. I will win with over 70,000 votes. I live in Anarkali. This is my home. These are my people. Even after Friday’s verdict, everywhere I go people chant ‘Kisi bhi haal mein, Mian tere saat hein’ (Regardless of the circumstances, we are loyal to Mian Nawaz Sharif).”
Dr Yasmin Raashid insists that she conducts her hustings more aggressively than her challenger. “We do door-to-door campaigns. So far, I have held 700 corner meetings, three rallies, and visited 25,000 houses in this constituency.” She further adds that the PML-N shuffled several names before they decided on Waheed Alam Khan. “They no longer consider this a safe constituency. What other conclusion can you draw from the indecision? I only lost by 14,000 votes last by-election. That is telling.”