THE bye-election in NA-55 Rawalpindi that had riveted the attention of TV channels in the country and observers of the internal political scene for some days past, witnessed the PML-N candidate Malik Shakil Awan romping home with a thumping lead of over 21,000 votes. The well-known political figure, now heading little-known Awami Muslim League, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, came second, as had been widely predicted. This was his third successive defeat at the hands of a PML-N candidate, though it must be acknowledged that in the past it was considered a 'secure constituency for him. Candidates of Jamaat-i-Islami and Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf trailed so far behind that they lost their deposits. There could be several reasons for the outcome, though Sheikh Rashids allegation of rigging might not be convincing enough to buy, at least in view of the massive lead of the winner. Assuming that there had been rigging, the difference between the votes secured by Malik Awan and Sheikh Rashid is so wide that even 'fair polling would not have affected the ultimate outcome. Only, perhaps, the margin of Malik Awans victory might have been somewhat narrower. Other factors - for instance, the confusion among the PPP voters in the absence of an open and unambiguous direction from their leadership to back him - that Sheikh Rashid counted among the causes of his failure to make it to the National Assembly, could have some bearing on the result. Nevertheless, it is hard to believe that they would have reversed the outcome. Not only does it seem that NA-55 has now become a secure constituency of the PML-N, but also victory there has become a question of prestige for the party. Its top leadership visited the area, addressed public meetings and did the canvassing. Sheikh Rashids baggage of association with the Musharraf regime must have been another cause of disaffection among his supporters; and the tragic Lal Masjid incident, during which he held a ministerial assignment, is also cited as a factor for his local voters to turn away from him. Last, but not of least relevance to the election result, was that the PPP, which was considered to be at the back of Sheikh Rashid, has become thoroughly discredited with the public. The spiralling inflation, the tame submission to US wishes in the so-called war on terror and its fallout, the stories of corrupt practices, and, indeed, its reservations in abiding by the Supreme Court verdict on the NRO - all have worked to expose the ruling leadership to public anger and resentment. With that miserable record, the PPP could not have been expected to win the seat back for him.