The PML-N may well have triumphed in the by-elections on Tuesday, winning all but two of the seats in Punjab, with the independent winner of one of those seats announcing to join the PML-N, a party to which he had originally belonged, and represented it in the Punjab Assembly. However, it should not become a prisoner of its own euphoria, because it may have retained its Punjab heartland seats, but it has shown little or no headway in Sindh, where the NPP candidate went down to a huge defeat in Naushero Feroze, despite a united front where the PPP only faced one candidate. The PML-N should note with a view to the future the win of the PML-Q candidate in Narowal against an independent, showing thereby that there is still life in the party, and showing it still has candidates available. This showed that there is still much profit in unifying the League. If the PML-Q continues to throw its weight behind the PPP, PML-N strategists should remember, that will lead to splits in the League vote that will cost it seats.

Meanwhile, the big loser in the by-elections, the PPP, must shake its head and wonder what went wrong. Apart from the usual infighting and leg-pulling, the PPP must also keep in mind the incumbency factor and its failure to solve the ordinary man’s problems, the PPP must consider why it lost. The PPP must realise that power in Punjab will not come to it just because the President has expressed the wish, but because there would be a track record of governance that would compel the voter to stick with, or switch over to, the PPP. On the plus side, not only is the PPP still able to find candidates, but they were able to perform competitively. Clearly, the PPP is going to fight hard in the general election, so the PML-N should not assume by any means that it will romp home to victory.

Another organisation that was also closely monitored was the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). As the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) has said that there would be no more by-elections to vacancies, these were the last by-elections before the general election. Just as the general elections would be the first to be conducted by the ECP after the present CEC was appointed, so were the by-elections. It was expected the ECP’s new code of conduct would be strictly enforced, one of the first signs of which was the ECP’s instruction that winners would only be notified if they submitted details of their election expenses.