The final results of the July 24, 2018 elections show a clear victory for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), with a clear majority in the Khyber Pakhtunkawa (KP) assembly, and workable coalitions in the centre, Punjab and possibly Balochistan. Thus, for the first time in a while largely one party will lead three provinces and the centre. It is clearly the PTI’s win, but has the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) failed completely? I argue that it hasn’t, and in fact, reckon that it may actually have been successful. Let me explain. First, the PML-N did not lose a terminal number of seats in the National Assembly (NA). In the 2013 General Elections, the PML-N had won 126 directly elected seats, and had received nearly 33 percent of the votes polled translating to about 14.8 million votes. In the 2018 elections, the party won 64 general seats which was 24.4 percent of the votes polled translating to about 13 million actual votes. For a party which had lost its leader to jail, was the victim of massive pre-poll (if not actual polling day) rigging, and which had an exodus of electables down to election-day, the 2018 showing is no mean feat. Consider this: not only was the PML-N suffering from anti-incumbency, it was alleged that it was a very corrupt party with its leader landing up in jail just a few weeks before election day. With the odds decked up against it, it should have been decimated at the polls. However, not only did it manage to survive, it lost only about two million votes, and held onto a respectable quarter of the vote bank. If you subtract those who left before Election Day, the PML-N only lost a couple of dozen seats at the extreme. Compare this with the Indian National Congress in India, which was the incumbent party in 2013, and its seats fell from 145 seats in 2009, to 44 seats in 2014. Thus, compared to the incumbent government in India in 2014 which suffered no pre-poll rigging, and where also corruption was a major issue, the PML-N has not fared badly. The rural and semi-urban Punjabi heartland has always been the bedrock of establishment support in Pakistan over the years. However, it is this same constituency where the PML-N won on an anti-establishment narrative Secondly, the PML-N managed to get a significant number of seats and that too primarily from the Punjabi heartland on an anti-establishment platform. The Punjab, which had been the ‘most loyal of loyal’ provinces under the British, is also the place where the Pakistani establishment has the most support. Go to any village in the north and central Punjab, and people would openly support the idea of a military dictatorship without blinking an eyelid. The rural and semi-urban Punjabi heartland has always been the bedrock of establishment support in Pakistan over the years. However, it is this same constituency where the PML-N won on an anti-establishment narrative. The reference to “Khalai Makhlooq” was clear to everyone and everyone knew exactly why and how things were taking place. The mere fact that this narrative became public and held for the PML-N is a great measure of success for the party. Thirdly, this time in the opposition will give the much needed recovery and recalibration time to the PML-N. In the lead-up to the General Elections, the PML-N, led by Nawaz Sharif and Mariam Nawaz, was sounding more like how the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) used to sound like under Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, than the centre-right PML-N people knew. The emphasis on the constitution and fundamental rights and the call for respecting the vote, were never the rallying points of the PML-N, but in 2018 it seemed this was the only major political party focused on them. Of course this had to do with their own personal predicaments, but the fact that these remained their battle cry showed a shift in gears by the elder Sharif and his daughter at least. Now that it finds itself in the opposition, the PML-N must think carefully of where it stands, and what it stands for. Does it want to become the King’s Party again? Or does it want to continue on the road it seems to have now chosen? The question of leadership will also have to be addressed. The party has been slimmed down to size in the 2018 elections to just about a manageable party which can have a serious thought process and commit itself to a set of principles and values which can potentially make it a formidable force in 2023. The writer teaches at IT University Lahore and is the author of ‘A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.’ He tweets at @BangashYK Published in Daily Times, August 17th 2018.