Nawaz Sharif’s election enterprise haunted by return of Imran Khan

Former cricket idol challenges front-runner seeking third term in Pakistan

Lahore

The van driver slurping tea at a stall on the edge of Lahore’s old city had no doubts as to whom he would vote for on Saturday.

“Last time, in 2008, I voted for the Pakistan People’s Party [PPP], but they have not even showed up to ask for our vote,” said Zulfikar, pouring his tea into a saucer and ducking his head to drink. “This time I will be voting for Nawaz Sharif because I think Nawaz Sharif is a great man.”

As Pakistan goes to the polls in an historic election, it is former Prime Minister Mr Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) who are considered the front-runners.

Just six weeks ago they were the clear favourites. But even here, in his stronghold of Punjab, where his brother is the powerful provincial chief minister, it seems clear Mr Sharif will not have an entirely clear run at securing his third term leading the country; Imran Khan, the spirited, anti-incumbency candidate, is leading a ferocious late challenge.

The faces of Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz, stare stridently from the countless thousands of PML-N flags and banners that fly across Lahore. (So, too, does the face of their mascot, a tiger, the real-life incarnation of which was this week reported to have become ill and died.)

And there is also a stridency about the insistence of their supporters that the Sharifs have delivered for the people. Development, jobs and infrastructure are cited as the brothers’ main achievements of recent years. A metro-bus system that helps transport 120,000 people every day costs just 20 rupees (13p) per trip.

“A journey that used to take more than two hours, now just takes 25 minutes,” said Asim Nazir, owner of a shop selling academic books in the city’s so-called Urdu Bazaar.

Another supporter drew a distinction between a clinic established by Imran Khan and the public hospitals that he had visited in the city. “I like Imran Khan, but a poor man cannot go to his hospital,” said Hamza Sharif, who works as a laundry man. “Nawaz Sharif has hospitals that are free.”

The Sharifs have also worked hard to appeal to younger voters, many of whom might be expected to support Imran Khan. A popular measure introduced over the past two years was the handing out of laptops to promising students – and solar panels for their homes to generate power during the country’s ubiquitous power cuts

The province of Punjab, which returns 148 members to the 272-strong national parliament, is the key to any national election in Pakistan. To return to office, Mr Sharif must bank on securing at least 100 seats and then look for coalition allies. The trouble for him is that Mr Khan, the former ?cricket star, is making a strong push.

“The reality is that the Muslim League is under pressure because of the inroads made by Imran Khan in Punjab, especially in those regions that were once strongholds,” said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, of Lahore’s University of Management Sciences.

He said some weeks ago, before a recent resurgence by Mr Khan, the calculation was the Sharifs might secure 130 seats. Now, he said, that figure might be 90-100, meaning they could not rule by themselves, and possibly making Mr Khan a kingmaker. A poll published by Pakistan’s Herald magazine, suggested Mr Khan and Mr Sharif may be neck and neck.

Observers say over the past five years, during the term of the PPP-led government headed by Asif Ali Zardari, Mr Sharif has played a strategic hand. While he withdrew his party from the PPP coalition within weeks of its being formed in 2008, following disagreement over restoration of judges, he declined opportunities to try to bring down the government. He realised the completion of a full term by a civilian government – any civilian government – would ultimately benefit him.

For many of the potential supporters Mr Sharif and Mr Khan are reaching out to, the most important issues are clear: ending the electricity and energy shortages that result in power cuts of 18 hours a day, nailing down inflation, and tackling corruption.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Raheem Sterling of Liverpool celebrates scoring the opening goal
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
News
Not quite what they were expecting
news

When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal at the Golden Globes in 2011
film
Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Scandi crush: Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

Th Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up