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LAHORE: In spite of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif’s direction, Shahbaz did not pay a single visit to the constituency of incarcerated Raja Qamarul Islam’s constituency (NA-59) in Rawalpindi to boost his chances against Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

Nawaz had directed senior party leaders including PML-N President Shahbaz to visit Mr Islam’s constituency after his arrest by the National Accountability Bureau in Saaf Pani Company scam. Former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was the only prominent leader in the party who visited Islam’s constituency and held a rally. The young children of Mr Islam ran his campaign on their own.

A source in the PML-N told Dawn that Shahbaz avoided visiting NA-59 so that he could not come into ‘direct conflict’ with Chaudhry Nisar. “Even on the last day of the campaign, Shahbaz was asked to conclude it at NA-59 after addressing a rally in DG Khan but he did not make it up,” he said, adding that the PML-N Rawalpindi chapter leaders had raised questions about Shahbaz’s ‘skipping’ of Mr Islam’s campaign.

“Being the party president he was supposed to visit NA-59 and stand with the children of Mr Islam against Chaudhry Nisar. But it appears that he (Shahbaz) still has a soft corner for Nisar,” a PML-N youth wing office-bearer said, declaring that the leadership would be responsible if Islam fails to win.

On his visit to the constituency earlier, Mr Abbasi had declared if he (Islam) faced defeat he would still be considered a winner as he would have a moral victory in the constituency.

PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb does not agree that Shahbaz deliberately skipped the constituency in question.

“Every one in the party was so tied up in his or her campaign that it wasn’t easy to spare time for any other candidate’s constituency,” she said.

Nawaz had voted against the proposal of not fielding the PML-N candidates against his old friend (Nisar). Nisar is contesting four constituencies – NA-63, NA-59, PP-10 and PP-12. Mr Islam is in the run for PP-10.

Shahbaz had told journalists that he had persuaded Nawaz

not to field candidates against Nisar but his ‘hostile’ statements (against the leadership) made things difficult.

Presiding over a meeting of the party social media wing here on Tuesday, Shahbaz Sharif admitted that he could not run the election campaign the way his elder brother did.

Shahbaz is contesting three National Assembly seats in Lahore, DG Khan and Karachi and two provincial assembly seats in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2018