LAHORE - The results of the NA-122 and PP-147 (Lahore) and NA-144 (Okara) by-elections don’t meet the expectations of the major contestants – the PML-N and the PTI.

PML-N candidate Sardar Ayaz Sadiq had claimed he would trounce his major opponent Aleem Khan with a margin of at least 47,000 votes, and Aleem Khan had claimed that he would defeat the former speaker bagging some 30,000 more votes than him.

Ayaz Sadiq though won the contest bagging 76,204 votes against Aleem Khan’s 72,043 the victory brings some important messages for almost all parties. The PML-N has lost a provincial seat to the PTI, which is nothing short of a setback to the ruling party.

The win of the former NA speaker – who is expected to retain the office - has established that the PML-N has a bigger following compared to all other parties.  Before the elections, the Jamaat-i-Islami, the Pakistan Awami Tehrik, the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen and the PML-Q had declared their support for the PTI.

People were also expected to show some reaction against last year’s PAT workers killings and the traders’ opposition to the withholding tax, which had also forced them to go for a country-wide strike in the past few weeks.

Despite all this, the success of the PML-N candidate shows that this party is stronger than other parties.

The Punjab chief minister has very ably articulated the situation, saying the PML-N has defeated “Qaroon”, a clear reference to Aleem Khan who is a billionaire.

No doubt, if the results of Sunday’s by-election are something to go by, in the prevailing situation even Qaroon cannot defeat the PML-N.

But what the party must bear in mind is that the victory margin of its candidate has shrunk. When Ayaz Sadiq had contested the election against Imran Khan in 2013, he had defeated the PTI chief by about 9,000 votes. But in the by-election against Aleem Khan he could get only about 4,000 more votes.

And this is in spite of the fact that the ruling party claims to have done a lot for the people of Lahore. Had the performance of the Punjab government been given due importance by the voter, the tally of Sardar Ayaz should have been much bigger.

The PTI leaders allege that many voters who had cast their votes in 2013 in NA-122 had been shifted to other areas this time, depriving the PTI candidates of their support. They plan to take up the matter with the relevant authorities after ascertaining facts.

It appears people have clearly shown that they are not satisfied with the performance of Sardar Ayaz.  And if the prime minister had not involved himself in campaign for him by holding a news conference in Lahore a day after the end of the electioneering and a day before polling, the situation could have been embarrassing for the ruling PML-N.

Before the prime minister, even the Railways minister and the BISP chairperson did their best to muster support for the PML-N candidate.

The loss of the provincial seat to the PTI man is something very difficult for the PML-N to digest.

The results of the by-election are quite embarrassing for the PPP, the party which has been replacing the PML-N in power until recently. Although the leadership says it is determined to revive the party in Punjab, the PPP candidate on the National Assembly seat could get only about  4,000 votes. This means the party of the late Bhuttos stands buried in the political graveyard and it is beyond the capacity of the Zardaris to bring it back to life. The party co-chairman, who has been sitting abroad for the past many months and is unlikely to return to the country unless the fate of Dr Asim Hussain is decided, is not expected to do much for the party.  

The Okara by-election is also an eye-opener for all the parties. An independent defeated the candidates of the PML-N, PTI and the PPP. His success exploded the myth of the popularity of the PML-N, PTI leadership.

Now it can be stated without doubt that it is now between the PML-N and the PTI. The PPP has become totally irrelevant. The local elections in Punjab will also be between the PML-N and the PTI.