The political battle between two influential women — Kulsoom Nawaz Sharif representing the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Dr Yasmin Rashid representing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf – in NA-120 is gaining momentum after the Supreme Court decision to disqualify Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif as prime minister and member of the national assembly. The by-elections are expected to be held on Sept 17, 2017.
Following the scrutiny of the nomination papers, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will display a formal list of final candidates on August 26.
In general elections 2013, Nawaz Sharif won from this seat securing 91,683 votes and Dr Rashid, who was contesting election for the first time back then, bagged 52,354 votes. Rest of the candidates, including from Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and Jamaat—i-Islami (JI), secured less than five per cent votes collectively. The official voter turnout was 51.85 per cent.
The constituency of NA-120 is the PML-N’s stronghold. Since 1985, Nawaz Sharif has won from this constituency five times. In his absence in 2002 and 2008 general elections, the PML-N candidates, Muhammad Pervaiz Malik and Bilal Yasin, represented the party from this seat.
After much deliberation, this time, the PML-N has decided to field Kulsoom Nawaz, wife of Nawaz Sharif, while the PTI has re-issued the ticket to Dr Yasmin Rashid, gynecologist and activist. Both women, in their 60s, have strong political and social backgrounds.
Kulsoom Nawaz, formerly Kulsoom Rehana, is daughter of Muhammad Hafeez Butt, who is from a known Kashmiri family with deep roots in NA-120. She married Nawaz Sharif 46 years ago. She completed her masters in Urdu from the Punjab University in 1970. From her maternal side, she is granddaughter of famous wrestler Gama Pehlwan.
When General Pervez Musharraf toppled the second government of Sharif in 1998 and put members of the family in jail before they were allowed to leave the country, Kulsoom Nawaz became the party president. She led a procession from the Sharif residence, 180-H Model Town, despite pressures from the military regime and remained the party president till 2002.
Kulsoom Nawaz will be contesting elections for the first time in September this year. Her selection as the party candidate for NA-120 has surprised many people who expected Maryam Nawaz to emerge as the successor of her father Nawaz Sharif.
However, Kulsoom Nawaz’s departure for London on August 17, the day she was expected to appear before the ECP tribunal to reply to objections to her nomination papers, reflects the party’s blind faith in this constituency. Kulsoom will remain in London for medical treatment till September 24, a week after the by-polls. This means she will not visit her constituency even once during the campaign period.
However, some party insiders say that she might come back earlier, and take part in the election campaign.
On the other side, Dr Yasmin Rashid, who joined the PTI in 2010, after her retirement as a government professor of obstetrics and gynecology, has a long career in social service. She specialises in maternal and reproductive health, Thalassaemia and Alzheimer. She headed the Pakistan Medical Association to protect the rights of doctors in the country from 1998-2000.
She has been running the Jahandad Society for Community Development since 2001. This non-government organisation is under official scrutiny because of alleged mismanagement. But Dr Rashid claims that she has distanced herself from the society.
Daughter of Muhammad Ashraf, she was born and raised in Chakwal. She is related to Fozia Behram, former PPP member of the Punjab Assembly from Chakwal. Behram joined the PTI in 2015.
Dr Yasmin Rashid is married to Rashid Nabi Malik. Her father-in-law, late Ghulam Nabi Malik (died in 2009), was an active member of the Pakistan Movement and served as education minister under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Her brother-in-law, Shahid Nabi Malik, contested the provincial assembly election on a PPP ticket in 1990 and 1993 but could not win. She is said to be close friends with PTI’s Andleeb Abbas.
The PPP candidate for NA-120, Faisal Mir, is brother of anchorperson and senior journalist Hamid Mir. He started politics as a member of the People’s Students Federation, a student wing of the PPP, in 1988, and has not changed his political loyalty ever since. He contested the general election 2013 for the PPP from PP-154, and secured less than 2000 votes.
Another interesting development in this constituency is entry of the Milli Muslim League (MML), a new political party created by the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) that is headed by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Its candidate Muhammad Yaqoob Sheikh, also president of the party, vows to kick off a strong anti-PML-N campaign. He believes that former PM Sharif banned the party under the pressure of US and United Nation to appease the ‘Indian lobby’. This is first time that the JuD will test its vote-bank.