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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Wife of ousted Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif wins his former parliamentary seat

Kulsoom Sharif's daughter Maryam said her mother won despite ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party workers being threatened and kidnapped

Supporters of former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif shout slogans outside a polling station as voting takes place in a by-election - won by his wife - in Lahore on September 17, 2017. Arif Ali / AFP
Supporters of former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif shout slogans outside a polling station as voting takes place in a by-election - won by his wife - in Lahore on September 17, 2017. Arif Ali / AFP

The wife of ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif has won his former parliamentary seat with a reduced majority in a by-election seen as a test of support for the Sharif dynasty ahead of the 2018 general election.

Kulsoom Sharif's daughter Maryam said her mother won despite Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party workers being threatened and kidnapped. Although she did not name anyone, PML-N sources said she was referring to alleged intimidation by parts of Pakistan's powerful military.

The military could not be reached for comment.

"This is not an ordinary victory," Maryam said in a speech to jubilant PML-N supporters. "You have defeated not only people who were in the field but also those who are invisible."

The main opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party made gains but alleged voter irregularities in the eastern city of Lahore, the electoral heartlands of the Sharif family since the 1980s.

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Official results are yet to be announced but party officials who also tallied the numbers said Kulsoom Sharif, who did not campaign as she is receiving treatment for cancer in London, scooped about 53.5 per cent of the vote, with the party's majority reduced from about 61 per cent in the 2013 general election.

The PML-N wanted to demonstrate that support for the Sharif family was undiminished despite the Supreme Court's removal of Nawaz Sharif, who has kept control of the party and installed long-term ally Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as prime minister.

Maryam said dozens of PML-N activists were blindfolded and picked up from their homes at night, while others received threatening phone calls from unknown numbers during the campaign.

"This victory is a message to the forces hatching conspiracies against Nawaz Sharif that there would be only rules of people and democracy," she added.

Maryam, who some PML-N leaders see as a future leader, spearheaded the PML-N campaign for her mother with fiery speeches denouncing the judiciary. In an interview with Reuters before the vote, she hinted at military involvement in her father's ouster.

Nawaz Sharif, who served two stints in power in 1990s until he was deposed in a military coup in 1999, had strained ties with the military during his third stint in power that ended in his ouster, when the Supreme Court disqualified him for failure to declare a monthly salary, equivalent to around US$2,700 (Dh9,920), from a company owned by his son. Nawaz Sharif denies receiving the salary.

Tensions between civilian governments and the military have been a constant source of instability in Pakistan, with the military staging coups and running the country for nearly half the time since independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

Opposition leader Imran Khan - whose threats of street protests pushed the Supreme Court to launch an investigation into Nawaz Sharif's wealth - had sought to build on the success of his anti-graft crusade by making inroads into the Sharifs' power base in Punjab.

Mr Khan turned the by-election into a plebiscite about corruption and has accused the provincial Punjab government, which is run by Nawaz Sharif's brother, Shahbaz, of abusing state resources to help the PML-N campaign.

PTI candidate Yasmin Rashid, a local gynaecologist, saw her share of the vote rise from about 35 per cent to 41 per cent but she afterwards said about 29,000 voters did not have fingerprint identification with the national database.