Battle of NA 120
BY YASMEEN AFTAB ALI
The by-elections of NA 120 that Begum Kulsoom Nawaz won by 13k votes against Dr Yasmeen Rashid of PTI: this victory though translated into retaining the seat by PML-N is hollow. In earlier elections the same seat was won by 42000 votes. Political pundits claim the fortress has been breached.
However, there are many elements of the contest that need closer inspection.
First, the margin of win between both contestants has narrowed drastically. This is the constituency where PML-N has traditionally held strong. The impact of Supreme Court Panama Case judgment can be seen in the election result. However an interesting point is raised by Dr Sohail Badar, an astute observer of politics, “If Labbaik Party bagged 7 thousand and JuD nearly 6 thousand, it means 13 thousand of previous PMLN vote went to these two Mullah parties. The trader class of Mall Road, Hall Road, Beadon Road, Urdu Bazar etc. are Hafiz Saeed’s supporters and this is certainly going to be a new factor in Lahore’s election results. In next general elections, we can expect similar voting pattern in NAs 121, 122, 123, 124, 126 and 127 where Hafiz Saeed has a sound following.”
The by-election results showed a fall in the vote bank of PTI as well. Dr Yasmin Rashid obtained about 52,000 votes in 2013; however she was not able to muster as many in these by-elections. Technically the voters who moved away from PML-N did not vote for PTI either.
PML-N lost 11% voters as opposed to 3% by PTI.
This should be a matter of concern for both parties, though this aspect is largely lost with the political leadership. Turnout was relatively lower. Will the disenchanted voters stay home in 2018 elections? Or should the voters be finally given a chance to officially reject all voters of their constituency by providing this option in the ballot paper and making the process of election truly democratic in spirit? NOTA or ‘None of the above’ means allowing a box to reject all candidates on a ballot paper. A straight 50% of voters in a constituency voting for this option mean disqualification of all candidates for 10 years, confiscation of their security followed by by-elections. This will make the leaders more answerable in terms of broken promises to people they represent. It will also make them more answerable to the people in cases where rampant corruption is committed, if any. In the final analysis, let the people decide whom to vote for. That is the essence of democracy. Being rejected via NOTA must also mean they cannot be appointed as advisors and chairpersons of organisations thus stealing in their way to take a place in the corridors of power.
A most disturbing aspect of NA 120 elections has been the demise of PPP. This was the constituency which largely came under NW-60 in 1970 won by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto by 78,000 votes. His main contestant was Dr Javed Iqbal, son of Allama Iqbal. In 2017, PPP bagged only 1,404 votes. It ended up last in the race. A sad state for a party that had won the hearts and minds of people under the dynamic leadership of Bhutto.
Ending up third was the Labbaik Party bagging 7,180 votes, followed by Milli Muslim League with 5,822 votes. Hussain Rizvi, candidate of Labbaik Ya Rasul Allah, managed to scoop 6% of the votes cast. He campaigned in favour of stringent blasphemy laws. His posters claimed love and admiration of Mumtaz Qadri who killed the then Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. Upon this act, many religious factions declared Qadri a hero.
Yaqoob Sheikh winning from Milli Muslim League platform; in 2012 was titled a terrorist by US managed to capture 5% votes. MML is the political springboard of Hafiz Saeed’s JuD. Mosques were a favourite place of promoting their candidates by these Islamic based parties.
Should the state have allowed the militants to enter mainstream politics? A local newspaper writes in its editorial, “If sections of the state are willing to experiment with the so-called mainstreaming of militant groups that have not taken up arms against the Pakistani state, democratic institutions must ensure that the terms of engagement are precise and democratic. The current approach of testing by stealth the viability of mainstreaming militant groups is unacceptable.” (September 20, 2017)
Political and security analyst Brig ® Imran Malik says, “Does a leopard ever change its spots? This is a sure shot way of ensuring further radicalisation and brutalisation of our society. Can the state or has it ever been able to stop the display of weapons openly or even aerial firings on weddings? Imagine combining political power with gun/weapons power and then giving them access to a religious (already held) pulpit as well as a political pulpit! It is an extremely dangerous concoction. And if they have some form of political power can we imagine their (mis)use of our LEAs and government machinery to further their agendas?”
Should these parties be made to renounce terrorism and violence in all forms, denounce militancy and deweaponise and then be allowed to enter mainstream politics? However, what about legislation by them? One is reminded of William Years, “Once you attempt legislation upon religious grounds, you open the way for every kind of intolerance and religious persecution. “Traditionally however, the extreme right parties have never garnered enough votes to form government.
Though PML-N had managed to take away Jamaat-i-Islami’s right wing vote, two new parties have emerged to snatch it away from PML-N.
Wajid Shamsul Hasan, former High Commissioner of Pakistan to the United Kingdom says, “Nawaz Sharif the third time around, was determined to wrest full powers to be the absolute king. And that is what we are witnessing. It is his defiance to the establishment, backed by his hawk daughter who would like to be Iron Lady. The battle to do or die by Maryam in NA 120 by-election was testing water. I am sure both Nawaz Sharif and Maryam would be reviewing their headlong clash strategy from the attitude of the Lahore Bazaar and to what extent 100 markets would go with him. They are not PPP jiyalas who would die for their cause. However, Nawaz and his bandwagon have cast the stone.”
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’