The wife of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was on course to win a parliamentary by-election for her husband’s seat, which became vacant when he was ousted from office, according to unofficial early results.
The Supreme Court ended Sharif’s tenure as prime minister and banned him from holding public office in July following an investigation into corruption allegations against him and his family, triggering the by-election for his Lahore seat. Sharif’s daughter Maryam led the campaign on behalf of her mother Kulsoom, the candidate, who is being treated for throat cancer in London. The seat has long been controlled by Sharif and his allies, but the by-election was seen as a test of the popularity of his party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).
According to unofficial results from most of polling stations, Kulsoom had secured more than 59,000 votes while her main rival Yasmin Rashid from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had bagged more than 44,000 votes.
“Today people have given their verdict over the [court] verdict,” Maryam told a jubilant crowd gathered at the party’s office. “First of all thank Allah millions times because he has blessed your mother and leader with the success,” she said.
The unofficial results were compiled by officers at polling stations and handed to officials from contesting parties. Election Commission of Pakistan will announce the final and official results later this week.
Sharif’s supporters celebrated in the streets on Sunday night, dancing to drums and songs blaring from loudspeakers and shouting slogans while the Lahore sky was lit by fireworks. Traditional sweets were distributed by the workers and supporters to celebrate the expected victory.
The PTI party, on course to finish second, is led by former cricketer Imran Khan, who played a key role campaigning for Sharif’s dismissal. A candidate from the Milli Muslim League, a new political party backed by Jamaat-ut-Dawa (JuD), which is listed by the United Nations as a terror outfit, was expected to finish third in the race.
Another candidate, Muhammad Yaqub Sheikh—who ran as an independent because his party has not yet been registered—appeared on campaign posters alongside Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the leader of JuD, who has a U.S. $10 million bounty on his head and is under “preventative detention.” JuD is considered by the U.S. and India to be a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group blamed for the attack on India’s financial capital, Mumbai, in 2008 that killed more than 160 people.
The Supreme Court on Friday rejected an appeal from Sharif against his disqualification, which made him the 15th premier in Pakistan’s 70-year history to be ousted before completing a full term. The case against the prime minister stemmed from the Panama Papers leak last year, which spurred a media frenzy over the extravagant lifestyles and high-end London property portfolio of the Sharif dynasty.
The Supreme Court has also ordered the country’s anti-corruption watchdog, the National Accountability Bureau, to open a criminal case against Sharif, his sons—Hussain and Hassan—and his daughter Maryam.
Last month, Sharif led legions of supporters from the capital Islamabad to his hometown, Lahore, in a days-long procession that brought thousands into the streets in a show of force. During the trip Sharif repeatedly blasted the court’s actions, saying the decision was an “insult” to Pakistanis.