After much noise and cataclysm, the by-elections in Punjab ended on Sunday. The results that started pouring in immediately after the voting period concluded, left everyone celebrating- while knowing deep in their hearts how hollow their self-applause was.

Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, the former Speaker of the National Assembly was re-running for his lost seat of National Assembly from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Contesting from Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) was Aleem Khan, who eventually lost the election with an unprecedentedly thin margin of victory – a number as low as 2,443.

Being at the right-of-the-center remains a shared area between both, with religion as their essential reference point, a confused stance on religious extremism and ambiguous positions in the past, on dealing with the religious / sectarian militancy.

The on-ground battle was between Sadiq, the gentleman politician and Khan, the real estate tycoon with a past tainted by (unproven) allegations of graft and property fraud.

It was also a battle between PTI - a political party longing for ‘change’ & reform; and PML-N – a political party with a lot of historical baggage of being a dictator’s progeny, alleged of having promoted corrupt practices, but having a hand on governance. The latter was associated in public imagination as a ‘status quo’ force.

The contradiction was too conspicuous to ignore. Under this National Assembly constituency are two constituencies of the provincial assembly – PP 147 & 148. The PP 148 was already won by the PTI while PP 147, which was won by PML-N, was disputed by PTI for allegedly rigged elections. After the Tribunal’s decision, PP 147 had to undergo by-elections alongside NA 122.

This populous and diverse constituency in the heart of Lahore has many downtrodden and under privileged areas as well. Where the constituent doesn’t care what the book says about the real functions of a parliamentarian.

What they care about is if their son is getting job, their daughter is getting an education, and their family is getting health care services. All this has to be overseen by the representative in the legislature, who she / he wants to see right there in the constituency and not in the royal corridors of power where they have no access.

So the winner had to have a combination of traits. The right banner of a right party, the right kind of past, the right kind of current reputation among common voters and proven credentials of being practically helpful to them. The two NA candidates from both the parties had contrasting profiles on these counts.

Sadiq, having won this constituency thrice before, had been regularly seen meeting people, trying to help them resolve their most pressing issues through legislative or administrative route- according to the situation.

Khan on the other hand had been giving very generous alms, charities and donations since last three years especially. After he was awarded the ticket from his party, he opened the coffers on just everyone in parts of NA 122. Some people in Garhi Shahu area were heard praying aloud for him and upon asking they revealed how Khan had been providing them with groceries and everyday kitchen provisions.

The amount of money spent there in this election if audited, would reveal shocking figures.ECP was not bothered. The candidates had employed all ‘safety measures’ to prevent any legal action by ECP.

But ECP didn’t, rather couldn’t do anything. Not that they knew what to do. It could not enforce its own code of conduct it announced for by-elections according to which no public office holder could run or participate in the election campaign of a candidate. Federal Ministers as well as Provincial Cabinet members from Punjab and KP openly violated this and ECP remained a clueless spectator to everything.

This failure of ECP makes it urgent to review the long held belief that things can be overseen affectively only by the retired judges. A judge, it has been proven so often in our recent political history, might not be an able administrator and an innovative manager. M. S. Gill of Indian Election Commission is a case in point. He didn’t have to be a retired judge in order to manage free and fair elections in much more sizeable and diverse India, while challenging powerful national leaders like Rajiv Gandhi.

In the aftermath of these elections, what is left is: a weakened Nawaz Sharif, a humiliated Imran Khan and a wiped out PPP.

In May 2013 when Sardar Ayaz Sadiq of PML-N defeated Imran Khan of PTI, the percentage of total vote polled was around 60% while Sadiq got 51% of it leaving around 47% for Khan and rest among others (including PPP). In Sunday’s by elections the percentage of total votes polled was around 43% out of which Sadiq bagged 50.43% while the newer Khan of PTI got 49%. The former did not lose his votes while the latter gained a bit more.

In the provincial constituency however, Mohsin Lateef , PML-N candidate lost with a thin margin of around 3000 votes. Lateef had previously won the elections in 2013 and lost his seat after the Tribunal’s decision. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s son Hamza Shahbaz had opposed granting ticket to Lateef owing to his unpopularity among the local workers as well as among the constituents. He nevertheless got the ticket probably because of his lineage. The ‘family politics’ as they call it, got a severe blow and disgruntled Lahorites threw Lateef out of PP- 147.

Sadiq won albeit with a thin margin. Nawaz’s politics faced humiliating defeat albeit with a thin margin. Imran Khan – rather than Shoaib Siddiqui – won the provincial constituency albeit with thin margin but had to face humiliation in NA 122. In PTI’s campaign, the candidates were supported directly by Imran Khan till the very end. It was the campaign of Imran Khan’s clout and Aleem Khan’s money. Both were defeated.

PTI’s romantic slogan of change got a big blow by having a candidate with a lot of baggage that the party has been claiming to fight.

Lahorites have insulted both the parties. They have washed PPP entirely off the face of NA 122 with its candidate, securing 819 votes in NA122 and 728 in PP 147.

The moral of the story is don’t try to fool the people. Being complacent would only damage you. People have the huge capacity of moving on. Counting and recounting your ‘sacrifices’ won’t really work. You can’t be sloganeering something and then doing something entirely opposite.