LAHORE: Faced with the increasing momentum being generated by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) apparently has no choice but to turn to its supreme leader’s daughter and party vice president, Maryam Nawaz, to carry out much-needed canvassing ahead of upcoming polls on six national and provincial seats.

By-elections for the National Assembly’s NA-157 (Multan) seat is scheduled to be held on Sept 11, while for NA-108 (Faisalabad) and NA-118 (Nankana Sahib) on Sept 25. Similarly, the province’s PP-139 (Sheikhupura) and PP-241 (Bahawalnagar) constituencies go to by-polls on Sept 11, while polling in PP-209 (Khanewal) will be held on Oct 2.

After facing a humiliating defeat in the by-polls on 15 Punjab Assembly seats in July that cost the party the office of the chief minister, the PML-N leadership appears much less enthusiastic about spearheading the election campaign in these six constituencies.

The party candidates contesting for five of the six seats are said to be unhappy with the leadership for not holding any ‘grand’ rally led by a top party leader in their constituencies. They are of the view that they need their leadership to back them in order to put up a tough contest for the PTI chief owing to his rising popularity.

Insiders say Maryam being fielded on Nawaz’s orders to hold rallies ahead of by-polls on NA, PA seats

“On the complaint of the candidates, party Quaid Nawaz Sharif has asked his daughter Maryam to hold at least a few rallies ahead of the by-elections on the three NA and as many as Punjab Assembly seats,” a party insider said. Maryam, who led and addressed impressive rallies for the July 17 by-polls on 20 PA seats, has yet to express any interest in the upcoming elections, he said.

“So, on her father’s direction, she is likely to hold some rallies in these constituencies, starting from PP-241 on Thursday,” the insider said, adding former chief minister Hamza Shehbaz, who otherwise would look after several issues the party candidates faced in the by-polls, was keeping a low profile.

Speaking to Dawn, a PML-N leader from Punjab wondered why the party leadership had not shown any seriousness about the by-polls. “The PML-N cannot afford to lose these elections as a defeat will establish that Imran Khan is stronger than the 13-party ruling alliance. Imagine, in such a scenario, who will seek PML-N tickets in Punjab in the next general elections,” he questioned, and urged the leadership to spend all its energies into ensuring a victory.

A source also said the party leadership is apparently banking on Imran’s disqualification from courts in various cases, which it believes will impact other PTI candidates as well. Only that can be a blessing in disguise for the ruling coalition, which otherwise appears least interested in canvassing or enthusiastically contesting the by-polls.

Of the three NA seats up for grabs in Punjab, ousted premier Imran is contesting on the two (Faisalabad and Nankana Sahib) that fell vacant after the acceptance of resignations of PTI MNAs by the National Assembly speaker.

On NA-157 Multan, PTI vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi has fielded his daughter, Meher Bano Qureshi, against the ruling alliance candidate Ali Musa Gilani, a son of Senate opposition leader Yousuf Raza Gilani of the PPP. There are reports that the Gilani family wants Maryam Nawaz to hold a public meeting in this constituency ahead of the Sept 11 by-poll, though the PML-N leader has shown reluctance.

Meanwhile, Maryam continues to lash out at Mr Khan. “Imran’s stance about Pak is conditional. If the Army remains neutral, I will drag it through the mud, if courts do not legalise my crimes, I will blacken their faces, if ECP exposes the theft of foreign funding, I will attack their integrity. The curse has to be dealt with,” the PML-N vice president tweeted on Tuesday.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2022

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