LAHORE - The by-election in NA-120 Lahore is different for at least two reasons: absence of the ruling party contestant and the independence of rightwing groups which traditionally supported right leaning parties.

Begum Kalsoom Nawaz Sharif of PML-N is not taking part in the electioneering for health reasons, and she is least expected of doing so even if she returns from London before the election.

Kalsoom is contesting by-election for NA-120 seat, vacated due to the disqualification of his husband – former PM Nawaz Sharif. In her absence, her daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif is running the campaign quite successfully.

Kalsoom Nawaz flied to the UK on August 17, the day her nomination papers were filed before the Returning Officer. She was diagnosed with an initial stage throat cancer and is getting treatment for it there.

After preliminary tests and biopsy, she was reportedly shifted to her central London residence. Her physicians have suggested that recovery time depends on her physical condition and the response to chemotherapy. The pictures released from London show Begum Kalsoom in high spirits.

Doctors here in Pakistan say the post medication care of the cancer patient is as vital as the treatment itself. The patient is restricted from taking extra burden on the head, they say.

Besides being the wife of a man who served thrice as prime minister, Kalsoom is known for being the granddaughter of Gama Pehlawan – who won laurels by defeating German world wrestling champion before partition.

She also earned eminence for playing a brave role against the dictatorial rule of Pervez Musharraf when the men of Sharif family were incarcerated after coup of October 1999.

Begum Kalsoom has not been active in politics after return of the Sharifs from Saudi Arabia in November 2007, but she remained on national scene owing to her being the First Lady of Pakistan.

Her absence from the scene ahead of the key election is not likely to make much of difference for two key reasons. Firstly, Kalsoom is a household name for the NA-120 voters. Secondly, the party supporters say their vote is for Nawaz Sharif, and it does make any difference who is nominated for the contest and whether the nominee him/herself participates in the electoral campaign or not.

In country’s history, there are many examples of political candidates contesting and winning elections in absentia.

The other prominent feature of NA-120 contest is the mood of religious groups and parties which traditionally have been putting their weight behind mainstream parties in most constituencies but this time around they are staying independent in NA-120.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Milli Muslim League (MML) and Tehrike Labaike Pakistan (TLP) all have their pockets of support in this constituency which in the past had been playing prominent role in deciding the vote tilt in favour of major contestants.

The two parties other than the JI are new political faces of old religious players – representing different schools of thought. MML has sprung from the now defunct Jamaatud Dawa of Hafiz Saeed, who commands considerable influence among religious circles. The LTP, on the other hand, hails from Tehrike Labaike Ya Rasoolullah.

Their being new entrants, the NA-120 polling is a test of MML and LPT’s political strength. The religious figures behind these two parties earlier mostly supported PML-N and other rightwing parties but this time they intend to keep their candidates in the race in the hope of gaining greater political influence.

The JI has been taking part in elections since inception of Pakistan. Being a part of PTI-led government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it was expected to support the PTI in NA-120 but the party has fielded its own candidate - denying PTI request for support.

The JI, which in the past had been an electoral partner of the PML-N mostly, has a considerable vote bank in the area and its support to any main contender can prove decisive.