Lahore - Elections are important and exciting in many ways. But it is rare that a single electoral contest comes to bear so heavily on the future of the mainstream political parties as the NA-120 (Lahore).

All parties want to gain something from this race but only two players matter the most: the winner of last general elections - Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and the runners up - the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). But it’s not just the 2013 election that makes these two parties the heavyweights here.

PTI has recently achieved a legal victory against the ruling PML-N, but that victory is meaningless if it does not translate into political gain. The opposition party, which remains the main challenger for Nawaz League, has to win this constituency to prove its claim that people at large have bought its narrative on Panama Papers saga. This is essential to set a pace for greater victories in the 2018 general elections.

The stakes are even higher for the PML-N. The NA-120 showdown is both a matter of survival and redemption for it. Here, the party has a chance to recover from the devastating blow it has suffered from the July 28 judgement of the apex court. An electoral win at this crucial time can be effectively sold to the public as an undeniable proof of innocence of party leadership, paving the way for success in next general elections.

Both these parties are already in election mood, but September 7 is the D-Day when the election commission will invite nomination papers for the Sept 17 contest.

The PTI has already named its contestant: Dr Yasmin Shahid – who lost the same constituency to Nawaz Sharif in general elections but secured more than 50,000 votes.

The PML-N candidate has not been selected, though names of three Sharifs have been tossed over time. A final decision is expected after the former prime minister arrives here on Sunday, travelling on Motorway and addressing rallies all the way to Lahore.

The opposition is accusing the ruling party of sticking to its alleged policy of family-based politics. Even some neutral observers have questioned why someone other than a Sharif could not be fielded here. But the party knows that the answer is very simple: It is essentially a home constituency of Sharifs.

The nature of relationship of the people of the area with the Sharifs is not just political. Many of them have been having personal relations with Sharifs for last three generations – right form late Muhammad Sharif down to Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz. This is why they identify themselves with this family. To them PML-Nawaz is nothing without Nawaz and Sharifs.

Initially, the party had decided to field Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif at this seat. But soon it was realised that his absence from the province at this point in time is simply unaffordable. General elections are not too far, and party’s performance in 2018 heavily depends on the fulfilment of PML-N’s development agenda. Shehbaz’s performance in execution of development projects has been exceptional, and there is no one else who could keep the pace.

Then Maryam’s name was tossed. But the party leadership is grooming her for a central role and it wants her to keep her focus on the next general elections. The NA-120 contest could drain too much energy and shift her focus, they believe.

As for other names from among the young generation of the family, Hamza is already an MNA, while Hussain, Hassan and Salman are looking after family business: these gentlemen have no political ambitions and they, in fact, had decided long ago to keep out of politics.

Now Begum Kalsoom Nawaz, the wife of Nawaz Sharif, is being seen as the most suitable choice. Kalsoom is a preferable candidate for a number of reasons. She commands great respect in the party as well as the constituency in question, NA-120. Then, she has a long experience of practical politics.

It was Begum Kalsoom who faced the wrath of dictator Pervez Musharraf and ran a successful campaign for the return of her family from Saudi Arabia.

NA-120 seat is more significant for her than anyone else as it presents Begum Kalsoom with another opportunity to get the honour and status of her husband restored. After all, it was this very seat that Nawaz Sharif was forced to vacate as a result of his disqualification.

Mahmood Sadiq