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LAHORE: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lea­der Maryam Nawaz visited NA-120 in Lahore on Tuesday in her first public appearance as part of the election campaign in the constituency and asked an impassioned crowd to avenge the “insult” to their votes by electing Kulsoom Nawaz in the by-poll on Sept 17.

Last week, Maryam had officially kicked off the election campaign at Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s Model Town Secretariat. Her Tuesday’s visit to the constituency was meant to mobilise PML-N workers as well as reach out to voters.

She first stopped at Data Darbar to seek the blessings of the saint before heading towards Mozang to address party workers. Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s four-day rally from Islamabad to Lahore had also culminated at Data Darbar on Aug 12, but he had been unable to enter the shrine due to security concerns.

A charged crowd of PML-N workers, mostly the youth, greeted Maryam at the first ever public meeting of her political career. Packed into a small venue, the PML-N workers edged close to the stage while shouting slogans. It became impossible for her to reach the rostrum as some of the PML-N’s local leaders gathered on the stage refused to vacate the space. At one point, the people escorting her had to help her keep from falling off the crowded stage. She eventually gave up attempting to push her way to the rostrum and addressed the crowd.

Picking up where her father had left off, Maryam railed about conspirators and disrespecting the sanctity of the vote. “Nawaz Sharif had been facing conspiracies for the last four years. [PTI and PAT’s] Sit-ins, rigging allegations and Iqama (work permit) were mere excuses because Nawaz Sharif was the main target. The Panama Papers case started a year-and-a-half ago on a corruption issue but it ended on an Iqama. Let me tell you...your leader is Sadiq and Amin (truthful and honest).”

She asked the workers if they agreed that their leader had been “disqualified”, and they replied with a resounding “no”.

Nawaz Sharif, who had made Pakistan an atomic power, laid a network of roads, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, could not be “disqualified”, she said, adding that he was trying to put the country on the right path while there were certain quarters that had issues with it.

Addressing the voters, Mar­yam said their ballot had been insulted as the leader they had elected from the constituency had been thrown out of office.

“Will you support us and elect your mother [Kulsoom]?” she asked, “Will you take revenge for the disgrace to your ballot? Will you give a befitting reply to those who conspired [against Sharif]...You can do all this by voting for Begum Kulsoom on Sept 17,” she said.

Her speech took an emotional turn as she asked PML-N workers to help Mr Sharif back into power, but quickly added that God would restore him and that she wanted their help in redressing the injustice done to him [Mr Sharif].

She lashed out at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) for seeking votes from Lahoris after criticising the Punjab government for according the city preference in its development plans. “How can you [the PTI candidate] even consider seeking votes from this Lahore constituency?” she asked.

To the surprise of many, none of the people entering the venue were searched and Maryam’s bulletproof jeep was parked near the stage.

Police had closed off various roads leading to the venue, causing a great deal of inconvenience to commuters. The road at Safanwala Chowk, near the venue, was also being constructed prior to her arrival at the Mozang Adda.

The construction of roads in NA-120 is an issue PTI candidate in the by-poll Dr Yasmin Rashid has been trying to raise in her door-to-door campaign. She has also written to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to take notice.

Separately, the ECP has written to the Punjab chief secretary to check the violation of its code of conduct by candidates of NA-120. It said: “Maryam Nawaz has allegedly been conducting the election campaign of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz at the Chief Minister Secretariat in Model Town. You are requested to clarify in two days whether Model Town and Jati Umra Raiwind residences of chief minister and former prime minister are declared the chief minister and prime minister camp offices.”

Maryam has been using both the Model Town and Jati Umra residences to run the election campaign for her mother.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2017