PML-N's victory in the Lodhran by-election seems to have altered the national political calculus. The by-election result - the defeat of Jahangir Tareen's son by a big margin - proved almost all political pundits wrong who had been predicting a comfortable victory for the PTI. The seat, which fell vacant after the PTI's Jehangir Tareen was disqualified from holding public office by the Supreme Court, should have been easily won by the party. But PTI committed a series of mistakes of which the primary one was nominating Tareen's son Ali to contest the seat. This was in negation of the party's claims that tickets are awarded only on merit. Imran Khan has always spoken strongly against the children of politicians inheriting seats and party positions. But in this case he argued that Ali Tareen was the most deserving candidate, a fallacious logic which resulted in the party losing the seat to the PML-N.
Political analysts have analyzed the Lodhran election results in detail to identify the factors that caused the upset. In their opinion, it is wrong to conclude that the victory has vindicated Nawaz Sharif's narrative against his disqualification. According to them, the result in Lodhran cannot be declared as the voter's verdict against his disqualification. The truth is that local factors - and not any national issues - played a big role in the final outcome of this election. According to media experts, above everything else, it is the Kanju factor - instead of Nawaz Sharif's victim narrative - that swung the constituency in favour of PML-N. It is relevant to add here that the Shaheed Kanju group had won all the national and provincial assembly seats from Lodhran district in the 2013 general elections, defeating both PLM-N and PTI. Later the Kanju group joined the PML-N, and one of its leaders, Abdul Rehman Kanju, now serves in the federal cabinet as a state minister.
However, taking advantage of dissensions in the Kanju group, Jahangir Tareen was able to defeat Siddique Baloch, the PML-N's candidate, in the 2015 by-election. But in the recent by-election Siddique Baloch, for personal reasons, refused to contest, paving the way for Pir Iqbal Shah's candidature. The Kanju group, other influential figures, MPAs, local representatives and different political factions formed an alliance against Ali Tareen and fully supported Shah in the election. Lodhran is among the most backward districts of Punjab. Some major development works undertaken recently also helped the PML-N candidate.
But PTI is no less to blame for the Lodhran debacle. It made some tactical blunders. For one thing, according to media reports, Jahangir Tareen disappeared from Lodhran soon after his win in 2015 and did little to serve the needs of his constituency during his tenure. For another, Ali Tareen, with his child-like appearance and little political experience, was a weak candidate. Lodhran was unfamiliar ground for the Tareens who had little grip on local affairs. In the larger national perspective, the Lodhran election result seems to indicate that PML-N is gradually regaining its lost electoral ground. It is notable that so far, the PML-N has held itself intact as a party and has its powerful electoral machine in full gear. This gives the party the confidence that it would win the general elections. We must not overlook the fact that the PML-N is still the dominant electoral presence in Punjab and faces no immediate threat to its supremacy from any quarter. There is a growing body of opinion in the country that the PTI's anti-Nawaz rhetoric and corruption mantra are not having the desired political impact any more. At least that is what is proved by the three by-elections PML-N has won since the disqualification of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.