The by-election in NA-122 was billed to be a proxy contest between Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, not just by political commentators, but explicitly by the parties themselves. With the local government polls in Punjab and Sindh around the corner, one would have expected the campaign to reflect the importance of the event; with both parties explaining their principle stances, their policies if elected, and presenting cogent and clear arguments. Alas, this was not to be. Resembling the insult based ‘stage dramas’ popular in Punjab, the final day of electioneering devolved into a base mudslinging match, with each side trying to trump the other with the most fantastic – and unsubstantiated – accusations. So much for the proxy general election, this would be unacceptable even in a high school head-boy election.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who stayed out of the direct campaigning, lashed out at the leadership of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on Tuesday for ‘using abusive language’ against political opponents, and argued for a more principled and decent approach to campaigning. For once he is right; the trend of shouting bold challenges and using undiplomatic language – introduced by Imran Khan during the Dharna days – seems to be catching on amongst the rank and file of PTI leadership. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Of course the premier quietly ignores the exploits of his party’s members, who made sure that they were not out-slung; some PML-N leaders went as far as accusing Imran Khan of receiving “Jewish funds”, forgetting they had accused him of receiving ISI funds a few speeches ago.

Imran Khan has built himself up to be the main contender for Prime Minister, but based on this showing, neither the PML-N nor the PTI look like worthy parties for the government. Both eschewed talking about the issues that beset the Pakistani people – and they are endless – in favour of a populist, provocative, and ultimately useless line. These two parties are the leading political actors in the country, the future generations look to them to learn the art of politics. All they learn now is how to elicit a cheer from the crowd by accusing their opponent of unspeakable crimes. They learn empty machismo, how to cultivate their inflated egos, and how to foster populist charisma.

Pakistan deserves a better class of politicians; who talk issues, not scandals. As such, the result of the NA-122 by-election will only prove who has the most political mobilisation, not who has the best stance on Pakistani issues, or who should be in government.