The result was hardly a surprise. In the weeks leading up to the NA-120 election, observers were adamant that the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) would retain the seat vacated by the former Prime Minister in the heart of Lahore. The real question was, will the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) give the ruling party a run for its money? As the provisional results pour in, it seems like it has.

The PML-N, despite putting the its most venerable candidate – Begum Kulsoom – in a race run by the party’s heir apparent – Maryam Nawaz – which was supported by the whole party and government structure, seems to have lost ground to the PTI candidate, Dr Yasmin Rashid. Through 2002, 2005, and 2013 elections, the PML-N had been increasing the vote percentage it received in NA-120, at the expense of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and PTI, but in this election that trend has been reserved. The margin of victory was smaller, as was the voter turnout. PTI may not have won the election, but it should see the result as a form of victory. Conversely, the PML-N will claim and celebrate the official victory but it seems to have lost popularity, in its own constituency no less.

Admittedly, by-elections are not completely accurate reflections of national politics and party affiliations vary constituency to constituency. However, NA-120 was widely seen as a litmus test to see and gauge the popularity of the two main political parties – PML-N and PTI – and how much popularity the both lost and gained.

Having said this much about the results, both parties can learn a lot from this by-election. Both political sides need to evolve their message for the upcoming elections. As this by-election will not, by and large, define the political environment and tone of the upcoming elections, still the victory is a sigh of relief for PML -N. It can be said with reasonable foresight that PTI will give PML - N a fierce competition in Punjab in upcoming elections. The margins will be narrow between the losing and winning candidates.

What signals will this result sent to other political parties and players in the field regarding the relative strengths of the two feuding parties remain to be seen. But this election has done two things definitively; introduced Maryam Nawaz as a politician in her own right and established the PTI as the main opposition party in the country.