The election season is in full swing, and the surprises keep coming. In the highly anticipated and crucial vote, the opposition’s joint candidate – Baluchistan’s Sajid Sirjani – defied the odds to become the Senate Chairman, while Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) Saleem Mandviwala took the position of Deputy Senate Chairman.

As the shell-shocked and visibly angered members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) filtered out of the Senate and started giving interviews, the magnitude of the upset became clear; the opposition had pulled off an improbable victory to dent the growing political ascendency of the PML-N.

How two bitterly opposed parties, whose leaders had sworn never to strike a deal with the other – and who infamously refused to share a stage at the opposition’s Lahore rally – managed to overcome their differences to nominate joint candidates will be debated and speculated on in the coming weeks. The role of independent senators – most of which rallied behind the opposition’s candidates – will also come under scrutiny. Considering the fiery speeches of PML-N members decrying “hidden hands” and “clandestine meetings in drawing rooms” after the election, these events will also garner a fair amount of controversy.

While it may certainly be shocking, the election is certainly not a “derailment of democracy” as some members of the ruling party are claiming. The nation witnessed a successful and on-time Senate election and the upper house of Parliament can be expected to resume governmental functions without further delay. Improbable voting results and shifting loyalties are part and parcel of parliamentary democracy. The election of Sajid Sirjani and Saleem Mandviwala is certainly unexpected, but it is not illegal in any sense of the word.

Furthermore, this ‘defeat’ of the ruling party is not as damaging as it initially seems. The PML-N still commands a majority in the upper house. While the Senate Chairman does have the ability to conduct and mediate proceedings – and theoretically can cause hurdles in legislation – the power to legislate ultimately resides with the house – and hence the senators.

At the end of the day however, the optics of the Senate elections and its effects on each party’s political perception is what matters most to the participants. PML-N’s strong showing through the election of its senators is undercut by the victory of the opposition. Moreover the impression that the PML-N is under pressure from state institutions will also play a part in the coming elections.

The 2018 general elections have become more important than ever.