LAHORE - With general elections just round the corner, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party is desperately looking for a leader in Punjab who could turn tables on the Sharifs by his clever moves on the political chessboard. The PPP had been facing leadership crisis in Punjab after the exit of leaders like Ghulam Mustafa Khar, Malik Mairaj Khalid, Hanif Ramay, and Sh Rafique Ahmad. Though it secured reasonable number of seats from Punjab in 1988 elections, but it could not repeat this performance in the general elections held in 1990, 1993 and 1997. Since then it has witnessed a gradual decline in its popularity in the province, which continues till date. After 1989, the PPP leadership tried Jehangir Badr, Fakhar Zaman, Mushtaq Awan, Rao Sikander (late), Qasim Zia and Shah Mehmood Qureshi; but none of these could achieve the desired results. However, the first tenure of Jehangir Badr as Punjab President (from 1985 to 1988) is remembered in party circles as the one during which PPP consolidated its position in the province. The results of 1988 elections were quite encouraging for the party which also performed well in Lahore also. In the last two decades, the PPP has not been able to even to match its 1988 performance in Lahore. The party has only two MNAs from the City out of 13 National Assembly seats at the moment. Qasim Zia led the party from 2001 to 2007, but he was abruptly removed just before the 2007 elections, (actually held in February 2008 due to assassination of Benazir Bhutto). After leading the party for over six years in the absence of Benazir Bhutto, he was denied the opportunity to select candidates and run party’s election campaign. He was replaced by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, but the Pir from Multan failed to galvanise the party. In 2008 general elections, the PPP won only 44 general seats out of total 147 from Punjab. The tally, however, improved, somewhat, in the by-elections, the credit for which goes to former Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Safdar Warraich, now party’s President for central Punjab. After the 2008 elections, the PPP leadership is trying hard to find a suitable politician to lead the party in the province. Punjab is very important for all political parties because it is said and which is a fact that road to Islamabad passes through Punjab. Since half of the total National Assembly seats are from this province, the party which performs better in Punjab has more chances of forming government at the Centre. Following the elevation of Shah Mehmood as the then Foreign Minister, the leadership handed over Punjab to Rana Aftab Ahmad Khan, a politician from Faisalabad. After he failed to come up to the expectations, he was replaced by Safdar Warraich after around a year. In the meanwhile, the party leadership decided to divide its Punjab chapter into two organisations, one for South Punjab and the other for rest of the territories. Ephedrine fame Makhdoom Shahabuddin is heading the South Punjab chapter. Now as the elections are approaching fast and the party has no strong leader in Punjab, the party’s top leadership has been forced to rely on Federal Minister Mian Manzoor Wattoo.But the problem is that Wattoo is an alien in the PPP with little acceptance among party men who are opposed to his reported elevation as PPP’s Punjab President. Given the level of resentment in the party against him, he may not be made party’s Punjab President, but all key decisions about the coming elections are likely to be taken on his advice.