The Bhattis have voted for the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) in the previous two decades in NA-120 since it was shifted from Multan/Khanewal to Lahore for the 2002 General Elections. While the father, Zahoor Bhatti, a shopkeeper who lives in his ancestral home on Lytton Road, has supported Nawaz Sharif since the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad days, his children only became eligible to vote following the turn of the century.
“Elections, by-elections, local body elections… we go as a family to vote for the PML-N, from Parvez Malik in 2002 to Kulsoom Nawaz next month,” says Abida Bhatti, Zahoor’s daughter and the youngest of three siblings. However, Zahoor is quick to clarify it isn’t any family obligation.
“All three of my children now have children. They are old enough to make their decisions. We vote for Nawaz Sharif because we feel he protects our interests best. Having lived in Lytton Road and I work in Abid Market we see first hand all the work that is going around in our area.”
A complete contrast to the Bhattis are the Mushtaqs, another family of five from Islampura. “Our parents were, and still are, Bhutto fanatics, but the children support Imran Khan,” says Asma, the oldest child. “Now we all vote for the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), because Bhutto died long ago in Punjab, and in Imran Khan we have a one-man army that is taking on two dynasties.”
The ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose disqualification has left NA-120 vacant, received 91,666 votes from the constituency in the 2013 elections. PTI’s candidate Dr Yasmin Rashid won 52,321 votes, the highest-ever tally against the PML-N in the constituency
Chaudhry Aslam, a journalist, and a former Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) worker, whose media office lies within the NA-120 constituency, believes the flow of PPP votes into PTI turf has made Imran Khan’s party a force in Punjab and Lahore. “Former PPP voters on principle wouldn’t vote for PML-N or Nawaz Sharif, especially the relatively younger ones. For that would defy everything they stood for in the 1990s,” says Aslam. “However, those of us who have been with the party since the late 1960s, when it was founded by Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, know how quickly things change in Pakistani politics. If you’re rigid as a voter, or ideologically fixated, you’d probably not vote at all – which is worse than voting for the worst candidate.”
The ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose disqualification has left NA-120 vacant, received 91,666 votes from the constituency in the 2013 elections. PTI’s candidate Dr Yasmin Rashid won 52,321 votes, the highest-ever tally against the PML-N in the constituency. “People don’t care who Kulsoom Nawaz is or who Yasmin Rashid is, they are voting for Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan,” claims Ilyas Ahmed, a cab driver from Khokhar Town who engages in political talk with his customers on a daily basis. “This is the most enjoyable aspect of what I do for a living. We get to meet so many different people, from so many different political standpoints – and things have been really heated since Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification.”
However, Naghmana Shahid, a PTI worker who was the party’s vice president in Isakhel, believes it is wrong to dismiss Yasmin Rashid’s own popularity. “It is true that many would vote for the PTI or Imran Khan’s name, but Dr Yasmin has garnered a lot of popularity in the area,” she says. “It is not easy to win over 50,000 votes directly against Nawaz Sharif, and the fact that she started reaching out to the residents in the constituency even before the PML-N could finalise their candidate, shows that she means business.”
Earlier this month, senior PML-N leader Saad Rafique said in a press conference that NA-120 would vote for a stone had it the backing of Nawaz Sharif. However, a party member, wishing anonymity, said Kulsoom Nawaz’s name was finalised after days of deliberation. “The party leadership was originally going to go with Mian Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz as the Punjab chief minister,” he says. “But following discussions, and the insistence of (Punjab Law Minister) Rana Sanaullah, it was decided that Mian Shehbaz Sharif would continue to hold his position as the chief minister.”
The PML-N party member says that the idea behind the decision is to maintain the status quo in Punjab. “The elections are decided in Punjab, so why go through a reshuffling over the reins in both the federal and provincial governments, when the goals of the party can be achieved without it?”
Naghmana Shahid, who lives in Bahria Town and won’t be eligible for the NA-120 voting, believes the PML-N is rattled and wants to keep the party stranglehold within the family. “First they wanted to make things go upside down just so the brother could be the Prime Minister, now they are putting the wife forward because the children are battling the apex court just like the father,” she says. “The PTI clearly has the PML-N on the back foot, in its political hub in Lahore, despite the so-called GT Road show of strength.”
The PML-N party member, however, believes the party is on track to conquer NA-120.
“From the decision to move Mian Nawaz Sharif’s journey to GT Road, to the numbers that have been mustered throughout the rally, to the NA-120 candidate’s choice, the PML-N has rebounded strongly amidst adversity, which should culminate in the by-election success next month,” he says. “This in turn would pave the way for an even bigger triumph in the elections in 2018, despite the collective animosity against Nawaz Sharif.”