Often times, a symbolic win proves much more victorious than actual power. Peshawar’s NA-4 election may just have been a by-election, but the stakes were stressfully high, especially for Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI).

NA-4 is the second game-changing by-election for a political party to prove its worth, after the NA-120 by-elections, which were a test for Nawaz, an examination you could say he passed but not with flying colours. The pressure for Peshawar is mounting even higher for PTI for this by-election because a victory would reflect PTI’s graduation from a newcomer and determine its re-electability power. With petitions against it in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the party needs a serious win to maintain its credibility and PTI losing face in its own province would seriously undermine all. Even the rally cry of dhandli might not be able to save them.

PTI’s desperation for this election could be seen in the KPK government going against ECP rules to initiate developmental work in an election area by installing solar-powered panels at mosques and tube wells near agricultural lands.

These tactics are necessary in what is a neck-to-neck election. While PTI is expected to win, it will not be as easy as last time, where it won more than twice the votes that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) did. This time, the opposition is more formidable and PTI’s weakness of inability to make allies has not done it any favours. Though PTI and Jamat-i-Islami (JI) are coalition partners in the KP government, they are contesting against each other. PTI’s constant bickering with Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is causing grief, as they have the late seat-holder Gulzar Khan’s son as a weapon to inspire pity votes.

While PML-N seems the obvious contender for the biggest threat to PTI, Awami National Party (ANP) is also rising to be a competent rival. Historically, this seat has been won by the ANP five times and the constituency has seen campaigning by ANP, whereas no central leader of PML-N has showed up.

Let us see if PTI can break the Pashtun curse of no political party ruling KPK more than once consecutively. Certainly, the opposition is giving it a good run for its money, with alliances of PML-N, QWP and JUI-F, ANP and PPP posing serious challenges.

Worrying is the inclusion of radical parties like Milli-Muslim League. After alarming signs of creeping extremism after NA-120, there was hope that ECP would finally take notice. However it seems that ECP doesn’t learn from its lessons and is more interested in getting involved in petty political tussles.