Voting has concluded in a hotly contested by-election seen as a key test for ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s ruling PML-N party in its political heartland of Lahore.
Long lines of voters were seen at many of the NA-120 electoral constituency’s 220 polling stations in the eastern city, capital of Punjab province, on Sunday. Results are expected to be announced later in the day.
Sharif’s wife Kulsoom, 66, is contesting the seat vacated by him after his dismissal by the country’s Supreme Court in July over an omission in his parliamentary wealth declarations.
Her campaign has been spearheaded by Maryam Nawaz, the couple’s daughter and Nawaz’ political heir apparent, in her first real foray into electoral politics. Kulsoom herself is undergoing treatment in the United Kingdom for her recently diagnosed lymphoma
The constituency, home to almost half a million of Lahore’s 11 million residents, is deep in the heart of the old city, and is considered a Sharif stronghold. His party has not lost the seat since it began contesting elections in 1985.
“It’s very difficult for them to take this from us,” said Sohail Butt, 48, a PML-N voter in the Mozang area of the city. “In our area, work only gets done if you go through [the PML-N’s] workers.”
Arif Khan, 32, a voter from the working class Bilal Ganj neighbourhood, said he voted for Sharif’s party because of its overhaul of the road, sewerage, and water network in his area.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) voters, meanwhile, appeared to be motivated to vote more on national issues, rather than connection to their party’s local networks.
“I see this is as the first main test for Nawaz Sharif [after his dismissal],” said Zeeshan Khan, 22, a student at Punjab University. “This is a way for the people to show whether they still stand with the PML-N after the verdict.”
Workers at a PTI electoral camp office responded good-naturedly with cries of “Thieves! Thieves!”
Not all exchanges on Sunday were as friendly, however, with minor scuffles reported between PML-N and PTI activists off the city’s main Mall road.