The report of the judicial commission (JC) into allegations of rigging in the 2013 elections was delivered on the afternoon of July 23, and the prime minister addressed the nation on its findings later the same evening. The report runs to 237 pages and finds no evidence that there was systematic fraud across the nation on Election Day, and that such fraud and irregularity as there was did not constitute a sufficiency to influence the outcome of the elections, which the JC found to be a fair representation of the will of the electorate. Considering the political furore that gave rise to the JC in the first place, the response has been remarkably muted from all sides. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, who probably more than any other single individual was responsible for pressuring the government into the formation of the JC, had so far had little to say on the findings of the report.
A close examination of the report reveals that none of the political parties making allegations of systematic rigging of the vote was able to present credible or substantive evidence to that effect. On the other hand, there is a surfeit of evidence that the election process was badly managed by individuals and organisations, with the Election Commission of Pakistan exposed as spectacularly inept and ill-prepared for an election which it had at least five years to prepare for. There are numerous instances where standard operating procedures (SOP) relating to the election were not observed, instances of intimidation of voters, irregularities regarding the storage of ballot papers, confusion about the over-supply of ballot papers and further confusion about how many extra people were employed in the short term to assist with ballot paper printing. (It was 34, not the widely reported 200.)
That many who had a right to vote were denied this right, there is not a shred of doubt. Contrary to the statement by the prime minister, there is equally evidence that some results were rigged, but crucially there was no evidence that such rigging as occurred was a part of a nationwide conspiracy. There was no conspiracy. No grand plan, but there was sufficient irregularity, incompetence and flouting of the rules to suggest that there might have been — and that an inquiry was the appropriate path to take.
Whilst the PTI has failed to prove its case, the report of the JC may provide a useful starting point for electoral reform in Pakistan, a reform that many consider to be long overdue. However, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Nowhere in the world that democratic electoral processes have been developed is there perfection. Flaws in electoral systems are discovered and sometimes but not always rectified, and the entire democratic corpus is a work in progress rather than a finished article — anywhere. What the JC report has demonstrated above all else is that whilst the electoral system is imperfect, it is not fatally flawed, and is capable of delivering a result that is a fair representation of the will of the people despite attempts to corrupt the process. Most of the failings that have been revealed are of people rather than process, people who chose to pervert or influence the electoral outcome(s), people who failed to do their job properly and people who were tasked beyond their limited competencies. By all means, reform the electoral process, but be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
For the PTI, there now needs to be a period of introspection. Unfounded allegations were made that were never going to withstand judicial scrutiny. Irresponsible and untrue statements were flung about. Promises to ‘reveal all’ were unredeemable. The PTI will, perhaps, be dented by the JC report, but is unlikely to lose much of its support, and we can but hope for the germination of political maturity.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2015.
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