LAHORE – Christian minority vote in NA-120 may prove decisive in the victory or defeat of a candidate in case the margin is narrow and the mentioned community decides to collectively vote for one specific candidate.
The constituency has a significant presence of Christian minority placing it in a position to influence the election results. Its role will become more important in a neck-on-neck fight which is highly likely between Begum Kalsoom Nawaz of the PML-N and Dr Yasmin Rashid of the PTI on September 17.
This vote bank is not concentrated in one or two localities; it is rather spread across the constituency in small pockets.
“There are at least 12 small pockets in the constituency with around 5,000 Christian voters,” Shahid Miraj, Dean of Lahore Cathedral told The Nation.
He also said the Christian vote bank in Lahore especially in NA-120 had increased over the years with the rising population in the City.
The vote bank of religious minorities in Pakistan is close to 3 million out of which the number of Christian voters is 1.32 million, according to official statistics.
Statistics of previous elections compiled by the Election Commission have brought forward some interesting facts about the role of minority vote in Pakistan. In 2008 elections, the margin of victory in 59 national constituencies was even less than the total votes of non-Muslims in each constituency.
Small pockets of Christian minority in NA-120 are located in the areas like Anarkali, Maryam Baidagh Church, Bilal Ganj, Mohni Road, Ravi Road, Sant Nagar, Outfall Road, Gilalee Church at Marzi Pura, Ravi Road, Sanda Khurd, Dhoob Sari and Gunda Tubewell locality. Besides, the localities around Saint Francis Church (close to Bano Bazaar), Holy Trinity Church, Neela Gumbad, Naba Road Church, Gawalmandi, Mission Road, Brandruth Road, Gulshan-e-Ravi Road, Chiragh Park, Shamnagar and Mozang Adda also have significant minority vote which may change the election scene.
It was perhaps this aspect in view that Maryam Nawaz Sharif, campaigning on behalf of her ailing mother Kalsoom Nawaz, went to Cathedral Church on Cecil Ch Road a day before Eid to participate in the prayer service.
Federal Minister for Statistics Kamran Michael had arranged the event which had the participation of other PML-N parliamentarians belonging to the Christian community.
A major chunk of the Christian minority vote may be cast in favour of the PML-N candidate given the fact that it has four Christian lawmakers in Punjab Assembly from Lahore.
They include Tariq Masih Gill, Shumaila Ruth, Shehzad Munshi and Shaukat Ivan. Though none of them reside in NA-120, but they may use their influence on the Christian voters.
Previously, the voters from minority communities would vote for the PPP candidates due to its progressive manifesto.
But this is no longer the case at the moment since the new PPP leadership has failed to establish its credentials of being a left-wing party supporting the liberal values in society.
Also, some major factors will determine the fate of candidates in the upcoming electoral contest. For the PML-N, the role of Union Council Chairmen and Councillors would be crucial for the success of its candidate.
The PML-N has the largest representation in the Local Governments at the gross-roots level more than any other party. The performance of its two MPAs, Bilal Yasin and Majid Zahoor who have been elected on two provincial seats falling under NA-120 will also matter a lot besides the development work carried out in the constituency.
Campaign pattern of candidates could also be one of the key factors to determine their victory or defeat.
The PTI is mainly trying to bank on its narrative of change which also helped it grab over 50,000 votes in the last electoral contest from this constituency. Its candidate Dr Yasmin Rashid is highly focusing on door-to door campaign which can change the minds of many neutral voters or those who have no strong political affiliation with any party.
She was active in the constituency even on Eid days.
PPP candidate Faisal Mir is also relying more on the door-to-door campaign besides holding small corner meetings. PML-N, on the other hand, is lagging behind its rivals on this count. For security reasons, it is not possible for Maryam Nawaz to reach out to the voters in the streets.
A divided religious vote in the constituency may also deprive the PML-N a few thousand votes this time. Pakistan Awami Tehreek of Dr Tahirul Qadri is supporting the PTI while JI and Milli Muslim League, (Later is a sister organisation of JuD), have fielded their own candidates.