New Punjab Governor Makhdoom Ahmad Mehmood took oath of office on Monday, replacing Latif Khosa, in a ceremony attended by Chief Minister Mian Shanbaz Sharif accompanied by a complement of ministers and special assistants. This presence was noticeable mainly because he and the new Governor belong to parties opposed to one another, especially in the coming election. However, it is that election to which the Governor referred in his talk to the media after taking oath, when he said that the time had come when leaders from all parties should pay attention to forming caretaker governments. That is an indication of his priority and a point of agreement with the Chief Minister.

Though the Governor is not a PPP member, his thanks to President Zardari, PPP Co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto and Begum Faryal Talpur, pushed all the right buttons before he said he planned to meet PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif, in whose 1988 Punjab cabinet he was a minister, and in whose federal cabinet a minister of state. That is presumably the connection he will use to make for a more conciliatory policy than his predecessor, who brought his lawyer’s combativeness to his office, and tangled often with the Shahbaz government’s actions, most notably in the appointment of university vice-chancellors and in various pieces of legislation, several of which he sent back to the Assembly for reconsideration. While that might be a stance approved by those used to a governorship like that of the late Salman Taseer, who had earlier tried to topple the Shahbaz government by winning over the loyalties of members after imposing Governor’s rule, such an attitude of confrontation is unlikely to be conducive in the conduct of elections, or rather in carrying out the task the Chief Minister, in tandem with the Leader of the Opposition, must do, which is to pick a caretaker chief minister acceptable to both. It cannot be emphasized too much that governors are a respected representation of the state and have no formal role in political processes, beyond swearing in the caretaker CM and his cabinet, but the informal role he can play is immense. At the same time, his appointment should not disappoint PPP stalwarts, who would have preferred one of their own to hold the office, for though the new Governor has denied it, the PPP has reached out to the PML-F in this way.