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LAHORE: Commenting on the furore in the wake of claims that around 20 Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNAs received phone calls telling them not to attend the National Assembly session last Thursday, ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam said on Saturday that those with designs to break up her father’s party would never succeed.

“This time around, the PML-N is united and those trying to break it will not succeed,” she said, talking to reporters while on a visit to the NA-120 constituency on Saturday.

PML-N leaders Punjab Law Minister Rana Sana­ullah and MNA Mian Abdul Mannan have claimed that around 20 or so party MNAs had received threatening calls from unidentified numbers, asking them not to attend last Thursday’s NA session.

“I do not know whether someone is threatening our legislators or not but I know one thing that times have changed and today no one is afraid to talk. Let me tell you... people are not afraid to speak up,” she said in response to a question about the ‘threatening’ phone calls.

In reply to another question about rumours that 72 MNAs of the PML-N were planning to quit the party, Maryam asked who those MNAs were, and confidently added: “The party is intact and will remain so.”

She visited various areas in NA-120 and monitored progress on development projects under way there. She also met party workers and discussed preparations for the upcoming general elections.

“Sher (lion) will be everywhere in the 2018 elections,” she announced, while making a victory sign.

The PML-N’s active workers in NA-120 have been told that Maryam will contest the 2018 polls from this constituency. “Maryam will continue visiting NA-120 till the party announces fielding her ahead of the next poll...provided that she is not convicted in corruption cases in the accountability court,” a PML-N leader from NA-120 told Dawn. “She is also making sure that her uncle (Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif) cooperates with her in carrying out development work in the constituency ahead of the next polls,” he said.

When this reporter asked a close aide to the former prime minister to explain how viable the rumour of PML-N breaking up was, he replied: “Some of our party men are in contact with the establishment but we are still not taking this matter seriously as it is not the ’90s. Those thinking of ditching Nawaz Sharif may get some timely benefit but will be losers at the end of the day.”

Muhammad Mehdi, a PML-N leader from Punjab, added that efforts to break up the PML-N had been under way since July 28, when the Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz Sharif from the office of prime minister.

“Like Maryam Bibi said, such efforts may not bear the fruit this time around. Those who will leave the party will have the same political future as Mian Muhammad Azhar,” he said, adding that the vote bank belonged to Nawaz Sharif and no deserter from the PML-N would be in a position to win the 2018 election on their own.

Another PML-N leader explained why the PML-N’s MNAs had been told to skip the parliamentary session. “They (unknown callers) did that to create the impression that several PMLN legislators were about to defect,” he said.

Meanwhile, Maryam’s cousin Hamza Shahbaz also visited his constituency, NA-119. Talking to reporters there, he said: “I have no differences with Maryam. I have been hearing about these ‘differences’ within the Sharif family but in reality we are united.”

Answering a question, he said, “We have our reservations against the court’s decisions. We faced accountability during the Musharraf regime but no corruption charges were proved against us.”

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2017