THE latest by-poll result in Punjab, for NA 184, has shown how the popularity graph of the PML-N is on a downward trend. Even earlier by-polls had reflected this trend, but the Bahawalpur election has shown this most vividly since the PPP candidate won by a margin of over 27,000 votes. The result is also significant because it shows that in Southern Punjab the PML-N has been unable to win over the PPP voters. After all, this was a seat that had been vacated by a PPP candidate over the issue of fake degrees and the PML-N failed to win ground. It is time for the PML-N leadership to do some serious reassessment of where it is headed if it wants to stop the popularity decline in Punjab. It needs to decide whether it is going to play the role of a genuine and strong opposition party at the centre or continue to hedge around and send confused signals to the electorate. It has taken a rational position on the APC called rather belatedly by Prime Minister Gilani, but it needs to come out stronger on national issues ranging from terrorism, the costly US alliance, Kashmir and India and the continuing efforts by the government to raise prices of goods used primarily by the ordinary citizens. Accountability within parliament needs to be more meaningful and effective. At the same time, in Punjab, the PML-N government has clearly failed to deliver, especially beyond Lahore and specifically into southern Punjab. Bureaucratic rigidity and red tapism are denying qualified youth of this region jobs while corruption and crime are adding to the miseries of the flood affectees of the area. Tales of relief goods going to areas not affected by floods are now becoming public and the CM, traditionally known for his grip on good administration at least, needs to act decisively on these cases so that the relief goes to the right people. Truly effective governance can turn the disgruntled electorate around to the PML-N, but this good governance has to go beyond into the outlying areas of Punjab - where so far there is barely any semblance of governance at all and the local feudals are ruling. Finally, the PML-N also needs to revisit the idea of bringing together the major PML factions, including the Q League. While no one seriously thinks Musharraf can make a political comeback, his effort of a flood telethon with US celebrities and known political figures like Kissinger does raise suspicions that the US is once again giving him some form of support and, unfortunately, that will have its own dynamics in the US-subservient world of mainstream Pakistani politics. While that will not impact the PPP support base it certainly could nibble away at the PML base, including that of 'N'. So there is a certain political logic for the PML-N to think about bringing together all factions of the Muslim League on a common platform. Let the results of NA 184 be the wake up call for PML-N.