While both Nawaz and Imran were satisfied by their own forms of victory, the real winner was extremism. The real underdogs, Milli Muslim League (MML), connected to an international terrorist Hafiz Saeed, bagged a surprising 5,822 votes – impressive for a party having been formed four weeks earlier.

The rise of radical parties during this election is a troublesome sign that the anti-corruption struggle might not be the biggest hurdle in politics and Pakistan’s political environment may slowly but surely been sneaking towards an alarming path. This coupled with the fact that an ISIS flag was found in Islamabad, may signal that the government may have to put aside the petty squabbling to address a greater enemy.

How did a newly formed radical party get so many votes in a country which has never elected a religious party in its history? The most probably reason is the vacuum left by Pakistan People Party (PPP), which has shifted its attention away from Punjab. It is telling that MML won four times as many votes as the PPP that had a four-decade affiliation with NA-120, including its founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto becoming an MNA from the constituency when it was NA-96.

However, the major culprits to blame for opening the gates for banned outfits to contest is the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the Interior Ministry, for not banning Sheikh Yaqoob, who although ran under the guise of an independent, was still de-facto representing MML. This fact was touched upon by Senator Sherry Rehman during a Senate Standing Committee for Parliamentary Affairs, who demanded to know how the ECP could allot an election symbol to MML, whose associates were is banned under the Fourth Schedule. Despite notices from the ECP to disassociate with the MML, Yaqoob Sheikh proudly displayed the election symbol and flaunted Hafiz Saeed’s name in his election campaign and still avoided disqualification. The Ministry of Interior has also opposed registration of MML, seeing it as the political arm of Jamaatud Dawa (JuD).

Radicalism spreads like a disease and MML is only the first symptom. The ECP may have failed to act during NA-120, but there is still time to make amends. MML is the stereotypical attempt of banned groups to re brand themselves as legitimate groups, and the government must make sure that they do not contest any upcoming elections in any shape or form.

Considering the ubiquity of opinion on the dangers of letting MML contest elections, the upcoming elections are a test for the ECP’s ability to enforce the government’s mandate.