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Hope and trepidation

December 23, 2012

PUNJAB is heating up. A new governor is set to take over from Sardar Latif Khosa. Shahbaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Manzoor Wattoo and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi are all out drumming up support for their parties, with Allama Tahir ul Qadri introducing a new angle to it with his appearance. From somewhere an intelligence document by the Punjab’s Special Branch has entered the discussion saying the general polls scheduled after March next year could be delayed. Bridges and roads are fast coming up in Lahore in anticipation of the general vote and their builders are extremely keen on ensuring the elections coincide with the opening of these grand avenues. Chief Minister Sharif has upped the ante by warning against any delay in the polls — and he has accelerated the pace to wind up his projects before going into an election. Also, there are reports the PPP politicians in Punjab are keen on having the election in early April next year, to avoid popular anger generated by long hours of power suspension in hot summer months. These are all signs of a forthcoming election whose delay would be easier sought then effected. Yet confusion seeps into the proceedings from time to time and the old fears about a delay in polls still hang in the air.

In any event, PPP on its own is lacking in authority to put off the polls. It is clear that those who are warning against a postponement are actually warning against some outside intervention in politics. This is where actors such as Allama Qadri are identified as outside agents painting all politics as bad and allegedly seeking to create room for a non-elected setup. These rumours will only die down with the announcement of an election date.

Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood’s sudden selection as the new governor of Punjab will or should add to the pre-election feeling — until there is solid evidence that some conspiracy to put off the elections is indeed afoot. It will boost the alliance-making activity in the province. The federal government will want the effects of this step felt well beyond Punjab, using it as an example of the reconciliatory politics it has been claiming to practice since its arrival in power. The move has been explained in the context of politics in southern Punjab where PPP is looking to woo voters with a new Seraiki province. No less significant is the politics of PML-N whose grand search for allies has won it some notables, ruff-ling the feathers of some big birds. Lagging well behind in the catch-the-influentials race, PPP would be hoping for more crossovers to bring the competition to upper Punjab areas.