The country has gone though its biggest-ever by-elections successfully, with 41 constituencies, including 15 from the National Assembly, and several from each provincial assembly, voting. Most seats were of party bigwigs who won more than one seat in the June general election, and thus there was an above-average interest. However, in keeping with tradition, turnout was low, which indicated that there was no unusual enthusiasm. Also, while the results may have been of paramount importance to the candidates, no party positions were changed anywhere.

Though the PTI could well claim it had done better than the PPP by winning three seats as opposed to its two, the big winner was the PML(N), which won five. Apart from confirming again that the PTI is fast becoming the alternative to it for the voter, the PML(N) must have also noted that the PTI lost two of the three seats its Chairman Imran Khan vacated, including in what is accounted his home set, that of Mianwali.

This would indicate that the party does depend on its leader’s personal appeal, even though it preaches the end of personalized politics. It would also indicate that the PTI’s performance in KPK has not really changed perceptions, especially since it is worth noting that it lost one of Mr Khan’s seats there.

However, the PML(N) should not be too happy about the PTI’s failures, not with its own to worry about. Though it won 12 of 16 Punjab Assembly seats, its losses included seats vacated by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and former Governor Zulfiqar Khosa. The loss by Khosa’s son Hisamuddin to the PTI’s Ahmed Ali Dreshak.

It should not take too much comfort from its wins, which may well owe more to the ruling’ factor than the party might be willing to admit. Even if this was not a factor, the general election is so near that the seats won may express more than a chance given to the government rather than any comment on its performance.

That the by-elections have been successfully conducted is a tribute to the resilience of Pakistani democracy. It should be remembered that they were held despite the vacancy in the office of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), created by the resignation over the presidential election of the CEC who had conducted the general election which had led to these by-elections.

Those elected could not take part in the legislative work required for the local body polls, except the Balochistan Assembly, which still has to pass a local body law, and to which three members were elected on Thursday. Then local body polls, the only ones left for the completion of this cycle of the democratic process, can be held.