Pakistanis began casting votes on Sunday for the parliamentary seat vacated by ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a by-election seen as a test of support for the Sharif dynasty ahead of the 2018 general election.
Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party hopes a resounding victory in in the eastern city of Lahore would show that support for the family was undiminished despite the Supreme Court’s removal of Sharif in July.
Sharif’s daughter Maryam has spearheaded the PML-N campaign for her mother Kulsoom - who is the MPL-N candidate despite receiving cancer treatment in London with Nawaz at her side.
Chance for revenge
Plebiscite about corruption
A soldier stands guard as voters stand in line outside a polling station in Lahore, on September 17, 2017. (Reuters)
Analysts predict PML-N will win again but they say Khan’s party would build momentum ahead of the 2018 poll if PTI candidate Yasmin Rashid, a gynecologist from the area, substantially reduces the PML-N’s 40,000 vote-winning margin from 2013.
“PTI would be very happy if the margin ended up being small. That would be a victory for them,” said Hasan Askri a political analyst.
Many of the 321,633 registered voters in the central Lahore NA-120 consituency are conflicted.
“My head goes towards PTI while my heart goes towards PML-N,” said Ali Raza, 25, a bank employee.
Kulsoom and Rashid will be competing against about 40 other candidates, including religious parties. One candidate is backed by a new party that is led by an Islamist firebrand who is subject to a $10 million bounty offered by the United States.
Hafiz Saeed heads the Jammat-ud-Dawa (JuD) charity, having founded and formerly led the Lashkhar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group that carried out the 2008 attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people. The United States has placed Saeed, the charity and LeT on a terrorist list. (L4N1LV52I)
Voting began at 9am (0400 GMT) and the polls are due to close at 5pm, with results likely to be announced after midnight.