On the face of it, there should be no relationship between the appointment of a new Governor for the Punjab, and the rally at Minar-e-Pakistan to welcome Tahirul Qadri. But both events are related to the coming election, and show that though the election date has not been announced yet preliminary manoeuvring has begun.

It is possible to fit PML-N Chief Mian Nawaz Sharif’s repeated congratulation of the assemblies for completing its tenure as part of an effort to ensure that elections are held, and not postponed, something that would be mainly of advantage to the incumbent President, Asif Zardari, for whom the presidency is not only the source of the highest honorific a politician can aspire to, but is also his source of immunity from prosecution.

At the same time, the appointment of Makhdoom Ahmad Mehmood should serve as an indicator that the PPP is serious about holding elections on time. It has been Dr Tahirul Qadri whose reception has revived, if it had ever gone down, the speculation about the postponement of elections.

Another aspect by which Qadri helps the PPP is by his attacks on Nawaz, whom he supported once, about 20 years ago. However, those attacks are not simply a call for stopping the PML-N, but part of a call for the change of the whole system. That is why he has called for a cleansing of the whole system, failing which he promised a sit-in in Islamabad near the beginning of the New Year.

That the system is dysfunctional is a separate issue, but it is worth noting that Qadri is propounding a solution which has been tried before, in the form of military rule, with military rulers saying that previous political governments suffered from a host of sins, including the venality and corruption they are now accused of.

The solution proposed now, of a government of experts, who would also cleanse the system, has also been tried by each martial law, but as the purpose is not to propose an alternative, but to reform the system of elections, every return to elections has meant a return to politicians, fallible and human.

Just like Makhdoom Ahmad Mehmood. He is also a representative of the political class, having been constantly elected to the Punjab and then National Assembly. He left his seat to his brother-in-law, Jehangir Tareen, in 2003, because he himself did not meet the graduation condition for that election.

Makhdoom Ahmad Mehmood is a well connected politician, being a relative of both former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the current Pir Pagaro. His father, Makhdoom Hasan Mehmood, was not only the last Prime Minister of Bahawalpur state, but also a candidate for the Punjab Chief Ministership back in 1985, when Mian Nawaz was selected. Makhdoom Hasan was the leader of the opposition. Makhdoom Ahmed is also a representative of the Seraiki province.

This is the second time that the PPP has appointed the son of a leading light of the old Bahawalpur state to the Punjab Governorship. The last time was when Nawab Abbas Abbasi, son of the last ruling Nawab, and himself the titular Nawab , was named. Apart from being the son of the last Prime Minister of the state, Makhdoom Ahmad is also provincial chief of the PML (Functional), a position to which he was named by the Pir Pagaro’s father.

The new Governor has also raised the subject of the proposed Seraiki province, with another proposal around that the old state be revived, That is another point at which Makhdoom Ahmad Mehmood is supporting. He shares with his predecessor an origin in the proposed new province, though Latif Khosa belonged to Dera Ghazi Khan, which is also in the Seraiki area, though it is not part of the old state.

This maintained the tradition of having a Chief Minister from one area, and a Governor from the other, though it is a rather fluid tradition, being breached by Governor Khosa’s predecessor, Salman Taseer, hailing from Lahore, which he had represented in the Punjab Assembly, as does Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

As the PML-N response to the storm on a Seraiki province created by the PPP, and President Asif Zardari personally, is to recommend not one but two Seraiki provinces, one of them consisting of Bahawalpur, it makes political sense to riposte by appointing someone like Makhdoom Ahmad Mehmood Governor, whose Bahawalpur credentials are so strong.

It is also a vote of no-confidence in Makhdoom Shahabuddin, who is the first PPP South Punjab President. Though also a Makhdoom, he is not closely related to Makhdoom Ahmad Mehmood, hailing from Mianwali Qureshian, not Jamaldinwali, which is where the Governor comes from. Still, Makhdoom Shahab is from the state, not the other part of South Punjab. The appointment of Makhdoom Ahmad would thus need to be seen as a pre-election move, and an expression of the view by the President, that Latif Khosa could not handle the job.

As the Punjab PPP Chief was also replaced recently, Imtiaz Warraich by Manzoor Wattoo, it would seem that the President is overhauling his entire Punjab team. Within that context, it would be worth seeing if the PPP parliamentary leader, presently Punjab Assembly’s leader of the opposition, Raja Riaz, keeps his job or not.

This slot will be particularly important because its holder will consult with the province’s Chief Minister about the caretaker CM. Though he will not initiate the process, he is not only the first point of contact for the person who does (the CM), but will have significant input in the process. The Governor too, in this case Makhdoom Ahmad Mehmood, will also have an input in the process.

The appointment can be seen as a pre-election exercise, because it is a gesture towards the PML-F. The PPP wants to prevent the PML-F allying against it with the PML-N in Sindh. By a move in Punjab, the PPP seems to be securing its support base in Sindh. There should be more ‘provincial moves’ by various parties.

The exercise is related to the recent by-elections, which saw the PPP doing badly. However, Makhdoom Ahmad is apparently appointed for the election, something he indicated while talking to the press after his oath, when he said that the leaders of parties should now concentrate on appointing caretakers.

However, he may have one eye on Dr Eshratul Ebad, who is completing his 10th year in office. This might well be because the MQM has kept faith in two successive governments, but it does provide a mark to be aimed at. His retaining the office would depend on the PPP winning the elections.

Of course, if Dr Qadri’s demand was accepted, Makhdoom Ahmad Mehmood’s chances of prolonging his stay in office increase. Though Dr Qadri himself feels the process of investigating the candidates can be completed in the 90 days constitutionally prescribed for the holding of elections. There is generally an opinion that this process would require some time, which would allow President Zardari to remain in office, along with his personal representatives in the provinces, the governors.

However, while there is a need for reform, there is an equally strong commitment to holding elections on time, probably because not all potential participants want it postponed, particularly the PML-N, which hopes the PPP’s poor performance will lead it back into power.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of TheNation. Email: maniazi@nation.com.pk