Ahead of a byelection in the Lahore seat of Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's ousted Prime Minister, a group of female party workers were this week invited to debrief his daughter, Maryam, on their doorstepping campaign.

"The silver lining to Mr Sharif's disqualification," said one, after several minutes of exuberant whooping and chanting, "is that we now have you".

Maryam Sharif, 43, has taken control of the campaign to keep the constituency in family hands after the official candidate, her mother Kulsoom, was diagnosed with cancer.

Though she has never held political office, Maryam Sharif is credited by senior officials with pulling her father's party to the left on social policy and women's rights.


This weekend's vote will give an indication as to the level of support retained by the Sharif dynasty following the Supreme Court judgment in July that ruled Sharif unfit to hold office.

Past a hallway in her family home guarded by two stuffed lions - a nod to the election symbol of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) - Maryam Sharif said that she expected Kulsoom to win a "bigger majority" than the 40,000-vote margin secured by her father in 2013.

Maryam Sharif's presence in Lahore over 10 days of rallying has galvanised local support, with backers of the PML-N strewing the roof of her car with rose petals and blocking roads. She claims her most effective message casts the decision against her father as an attack on democracy in a 70-year-old country where a civilian prime minister has never completed a term in office.

Such a defiant rejection of the verdict has brought her into a conflict with Pakistan's judiciary and, by implication, its military.

Kulsoom Nawaz, the wife of deposed Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Photo / AP file
Kulsoom Nawaz, the wife of deposed Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Photo / AP file

Maryam Sharif has advised the family against attending corruption trials into their financial affairs ordered by the Supreme Court.

"I see these references [in the corruption court] as a sword they wanted to hang over the heads of the family," she says, adopting the coded language Pakistani politicians often use when referring to the military, which is rumoured to have pushed for the disqualification of Sharif.

Even if Maryam Sharif and her father avoid prison, the objection of some senior party members to her political inexperience and appetite for conflict with the state's most powerful institutions may be hurdles to a political succession.