Kalsoom Nawaz’s abrupt departure from Lahore just as the campaigning for the by-election in NA-120 was beginning left the nation with a lot of unanswered questions. Will she be back in time for the election? Who will campaign in her stead? Won’t this departure give her opponent an advantage? Perhaps most importantly, why did she leave so suddenly?

The news coming from London answers the last question at least; Begum Kalsoom has been diagnosed with throat cancer, but mercifully it is at an early stage and can be treated with medication. As positive wishes pour in from across the political spectrum, all stakeholders are also keeping one eye trained on the NA-120 by-election; with Ms Nawaz unlikely to return before the polling date, the list of unanswered questions has become longer.

Chief among them are questions over lack of foresight. Maryam Nawaz – the favoured heir of the Sharif family – is set to lead the campaigning in NA-120; which essentially means that this contest has become one between Maryam Nawaz from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Dr Yasmin Rashid from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). The family must have surely known about the nature of Begum Kalsoom’s illness, then why did it insist on putting her on the ticket? If Maryam was slated to eventually contest the election it would have been infinitely wiser to let her contest the election directly, not through this roundabout way.

The smoke and mirrors routine surrounding the ticket nomination and Begum Kalsoom’s departure has only served to fuel speculation and gossip; deepening perceived rifts and emboldening the opposition. Had Maryam Nawaz been presented as a strong candidate from the start, all this could have been avoided.

More importantly, she is the obvious choice for the ticket. She has shown great ambition in the past term, is well-educated, well-groomed, and entrenched enough in the daily affairs of the PML-N to have stood as candidate herself. If Nawaz Sharif sees her as an eventual successor to his political legacy, she must be brought to the centre stage and allowed to test her mettle in the only arena that really counts in politics – the election.

Nawaz Sharif has been too cautious with his heir. While she certainly has the drive and skill to be a capable politician, her lack of direct political experience in her own capacity has always held her back. This election will be Maryam’s – but she will be fighting it from behind her mother’s silhouette.