The President’s confident remark that the Punjab Chief Minister after the general elections would be a jiyala (PPP leader) constitutes a challenge to the PML-N, which could till recently rightly claim that the province was its stronghold. While in Lahore on Friday, Mr Zardari met provincial office-bearers of the party, gave away the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry Achievement Awards and had an informal talk with the BBC. And during these encounters, he expressed his views on different issues facing the country. Reverting to his contention that the PPP would be voted into power in Punjab in the coming elections, one must say that the party already has a sizeable vote bank here, and with the PML-Q in alliance, the challenge must be taken seriously by the PML-N leadership. That is especially so in the changed political realities: the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) having lately made a not insignificant emergence on the national scene and, according to some analysts, it is likely to dent the PML-N’s voting strength. The PTI’s catchy slogan for ‘change’ strikes a chord with people who have helplessly witnessed their problems relentlessly grow over time and have become weary of hearing unfulfilled promises of bettering their lot. Mian Nawaz Sharif’s indifference to the calls for unity in various factions of the Muslim League threatens to come home to roost.He and his lieutenants need to work out a strategy that has a chance of successfully frustrating the expectations of rival parties in the field.Mr Zardari debunked the assumption that general elections were being put off, reviving hope that they would be held on schedule, and as he held out the assurance that the Election Commission was an autonomous body he encouraged the prospect of free and fair elections. That is good news for people facing adverse circumstances – inflation, gas and power shortages, poor education and health facilities, insecurity – and are banking on the leaders that the coming polls would throw up, to help get them out of the blind alley of poverty, hunger and ill health.While it is true that the worldwide recession and high oil prices did impact the price structure in the country, the government’s lavish style, massive corruption and reluctance to come to grips with problems have been the real angles of people’s miseries. Mr Zardari’s tall claim that the PPP-led coalition has added 3,500MW of power to the national grid is highly questionable; rather, the President made Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, who has been severely castigated by the Supreme Court for his role in the Rental Power Projects discovered to be awash with corrupt practices, as Prime Minister when Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani was relieved of the job.