The events occurring in the ‘Land of the Pure’ never cease to amaze me. The latest in the long list of ‘markers’ on our road to self-immolation, is now manifesting itself in the run up to the NA-120 by election. Nothing could be more appropriate at this juncture than to take a bird’s eye view of the constituency that will, on 17 Sept 2017, become the venue of a huge political battle with far reaching consequences.

NA120, lies astride the heart of Lahore City covering Islampura, Bilal Gunj, New Anarkali, Urdu Bazar, Hall Road, Cooper Road, Mayo Hospital, Sanda, Muzang, Kareem Park, Lower Mall, Lake Road, Shahrah-i-Fatima Jinnah, Mauj Darya, Lytton Road, Chauburji, Rajgarh, Riwaz Garden, Santnagar, Ramnagar, Dave Samaj Road, Shamnagar, Sanda, Civil Secretariat, Premnagar, Bund Road, Ravi Colony, Kasur Pura, Khokhar Town and Momin Pura. The constituency has traditionally been a Ruling Party stronghold winning successive elections. It was in October 2002 that PML-N’s Muhammed Pervaiz Malik swept aside his opponents by obtaining 33,741 or 46.87 percent of the votes, while a badly mauled PTI candidate Abdul Rashid Bhatti stood at a mere 2,526 or 3.51 percent. The story was repeated in February 2008, when PML-N’s Bilal Yaseen won this seat getting 65,946 or 68.51 percent votes with PTI nowhere in reckoning. In May 2013, Mr. Nawaz Sharif won this seat with 91,666 or 60.57 percent votes, but with the ominous difference that he was hotly contested by the PTI candidate Dr. Yasmin Rashid, who secured 52,321 or 34.57 percent of the ballot. It is the same Yasmin Rashid, who has once again challenged PML-N by contesting the Sept 2017 by election against Begum Kulsum Nawaz, wife of the disqualified Mr. Nawaz Sharif.

My recent visit to NA-120 proved to be an eye opener of sorts. I saw roads, driving on which was nothing short of a nightmare. I negotiated rivers of sewage that spewed out of non-existent or damaged gutters and passed under tangled power lines and precariously balanced transformers with life threatening potential. In short, what I saw was an abject tale of win and ‘to hell with the voters’. I also spoke to some households, who had swung away from their traditional allegiance to PML-N, but was amazed at the fact that there remained a sizeable number of people, with unflinching loyalty to the Sharif Family.

There can be two opinions; that the featured by election has now become a battle for political and egotistic survival, as far as the Sharif Family (I am deliberately avoiding the use the word PML-N) is concerned. Both the former PM and his heir apparent Ms. Maryam Safdar, have left no stone unturned to target both the apex judiciary and the army, in an unsuccessful bid to raise street sentiment. They have now raised the stakes by labelling a win in NA-120 as vindication of their central theme, categorizing their success as a peoples’ judgment that (in their words and in contempt of the Supreme Court) overrules the judicial verdict.

It is for this reason that PML-N is pulling out all the stops to win the bye poll, which in the ruling party dictionary means using all and every means (howsoever unethical) to defeat their prime opponent – the PTI candidate. I am therefore not surprised to see every code of conduct set by The Election Commission being violated with impunity, while the Commission looks on in helpless inaction. PTI has already complained that 29000 bogus voters have been included in the voting lists, in what is being rated as pre poll rigging. There are also credible reports that provincial government machinery and sitting legislators are being indiscriminately used to run Begum Nawaz Sharif’s campaign.

The most interesting aspect of NA-120 by election is the fact that the candidate’s campaign is being run in absentia by her daughter, since the ticket holder is under treatment for cancer in UK. The absence of the candidate and doubts about her eligibility to contest (on account of her condition) raises questions that only legal experts can answer. To me as a citizen, it is this particular scenario that ‘mocks’ the sanctity of the ballot – not Mr. Sharif’s disqualification, as stated repeatedly by the ex-Prime Minister and his heir apparent.