LAHORE - The appointment of a ‘political convert’ Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo as the new Punjab president of the PPP is a very important decision, which shows the leadership’s seriousness in giving a tough time to their political opponents in the country’s most populous province in the forthcoming elections.

He has been chosen for the job because of his leadership qualities. However, it will be clear in the days and weeks ahead if the man from Okara is acceptable to and gets cooperation from the leaders who have been bypassed despite their decades of association with the party.

If the PPP contested the elections in alliance with the PML-Q, which is the case so far, Wattoo and Deputy Prime Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi (who is also provincial president of his party) will devise policies aimed at shattering the PML-N’s dreams about capturing the Punjab. Both Wattoo and Pervaiz Elahi are known Sharif haters.

Manzoor Wattoo and Pervaiz Elahi have tremendous experience of the local government system. Both have also been speaker of the Punjab Assembly before becoming chief minister. They are well aware of the strong and weak points of their opponents.

Wattoo remained chairman of the district council for about eight years. Then he stayed as the Punjab Assembly speaker for a similar term.

After the 1990 elections, he was still the speaker when, after a nod from then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan, he spearheaded a no-confidence motion against then chief minister Ghulam Haider Wyne. Having ousted him, he became the chief executive of the province. After assuming the new role, he started confrontation with then prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The president was fully supporting him in all moves.

After a period of serious confrontation between the president and the prime minister, then army chief Gen Waheed Kakar intervened and made both of them to stand down. This paved the way for fresh elections.

Mr Wattoo had contested the 1993 election from the platform of the PML (Junejo), headed by Hamid Nasir Chattha, a strong critic of Mr Sharif who recently became an ally of the PML-N after several years of estrangement.

Though the party could win only 18 seats in the 248-strong Punjab Assembly, the PPP agreed to support Wattoo to become the chief minister. Had the PPP not agreed to follow this course, the PML-N would have regained power. The leader from Okara was the most powerful chief minister. Using his persuasive skills and offering various incentives, he lured all independents into PML (Junejo), as a result of which the parliamentary strength of the party got closer to 36.

The PPP did not like Mr Wattoo’s move, but it had no option but to acquiesce.

It was Mr Wattoo who had removed the fences the powerful Sharifs had erected in front of their Model Town residences to occupy part of the park for security reasons.

After some time, the PPP started efforts to bring its own man – Makhdoom Altaf – as the chief minister. However, the PML (Junejo) frustrated the move by getting Sardar Arif Nakai as the new provincial chief executive. Nakai was not the PML-N man but his victory was celebrated even by the Sharifs. It was argued that the PPP’s way to power had been effectively blocked.

Subsequently, Mr Wattoo had developed differences with Mr Chattha and set up his own party – PML (Jinnah). Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali had also joined this party. (After the 1993 elections, Sardar Assef had become foreign minister of Benazir Bhutto).

During the Musharraf era, Mr Wattoo, like some other factions of the PML, merged his party with the Pakistan Muslim League, headed by Chaudhry Shujaat Husain.

Later on, he joined the PPP.

Wattoo headed various ministries after the 2008 elections.

At a time when the performance of the PPP-led federal government is very disappointing and everybody alleges that the government has added to the problems of the common man, it would be a challenging task for the Punjab president to give satisfactory results in the next elections.