The joining of the PML-N by independent MNA Zafarullah Jamali and the agreement of PML-F President Pir Pagaro to enter into a coalition with the PML-N do not just represent the PML-N central government gaining strength, but the growing closer of Muslim League factions. The coalition between the PML-N and the PML-F was expected, but it was confirmed and given shape by the invitation of PML-N Punjab President Mian Shahbaz Sharif, himself already named to the Punjab chief ministership, on Saturday when he called on Pir Pagaro at his residence in Karachi. This agreement not only included the PML-F joining the central government, but also to sit on the opposition benches in the Sindh Assembly. There, the Pir asked for PML-N’s support for its candidate for the Leadership of the Opposition. Mr Jamali, who had been Prime Minister in 2003 at the head of a PML-Q government, joined the PML-N in Lahore when he called on Mian Nawaz Sharif at Raiwind, who now has the National Assembly majority he needs to form the government for the third time.

Mr Jamali’s removal from the Prime Ministership began his journey away from the PML-Q, to the extent that he contested the election as an independent, but his joining the PML-N raises the distinct possibility of the PML-N being joined by the Chaudhrys of Gujrat. The PML faction they control, the PML-Q, now down to two National Assembly seats, has decided to abandon its coalition with the PPP, which it carried into the election. However, it has decided to coordinate with the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, especially over rigging allegations. That would indicate a wish to remain in the opposition.

The PML-N has already been joined by the People’s Muslim League, the faction formed by Arbab Ghulam Rahim when he left the PML-Q, and the PML-Z, the faction merged by Ijazul Haq into the PML-Q and which he revived when he left, shows that the PML-N, in its moment of victory, is deliberately, or inadvertently, leading efforts to unite factions of the Muslim League. The most immediate challenge is going to come in the shape of by-elections to the seats vacated by winners of multiple candidates, or because polls were delayed, due to the death of a contesting candidate. Unless the League is united at that point, the division of the party vote could cause a defeat, and thus the present opportunity is an exceptional one. The League leaders must use it, or they may live to regret it.