As the results of the by-elections poured in on Monday, the full picture of the polls began to take shape – a picture not many will be surprised by. The leading parties took the lion’s share of the offered seats as expected, and the whole exercise was thankfully completed without any controversy or untoward incident.

However, just because the polls concluded as expected does not mean that we have nothing to glean from the parties’ performances; far from it, the by-polls served as a sharp reminder of the precarious balance of power that exists in the country, and how easily it can change.

The biggest talking point is of course the gains made by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), especially in the Centre and Punjab. While both parties were neck to neck, the former managed to win over two National Assembly seats and two Punjab Assembly seats from the government – pending official results at the time of writing.

The ruling party losing four seats after a rocky first 50 days in power is undoubtedly a setback. The margins in the assemblies are razor thin as it is, and a public defeat – against PML-N stalwarts like Khwaja Saad Rafique and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi no less – would be difficult to swallow. The PTI may be missing the star power of its charismatic leader in the campaigning, but considering that it still not considered the “incumbent party” so soon into its regime, it should have ideally retained its seats.

However it is not the earth shattering “verdict by the people” on PTI’s early performance that many in the PML-N are claiming. The PML-N has been, and still is, quite strong and well-organised in Punjab, and estimates suggested it would bring that strength to bear regardless of the government’s performance. The PTI has not been swept away in some wave of discontent – it managed to win several hotly contested seats - rather it has simply been given tough competition.

All of which harks back to the precarious hold on power that the ruling party has, numbers wise. The ruling party cannot rest on its laurels, especially in Punjab. The incarceration of PML-N leaders like Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif, and the legal troubles of several others, does not seem to have dented PML-N support overmuch. Given the shifting loyalties of Punjabi politicians and powerbrokers, this can be a troubling situation.

At the moment however, the PTI still sits comfortably at the top following the by-elections, and should continue to enjoy support in the Centre and the provinces for its policies.