Much to the relief of the Nawaz Sharif government the judicial inquiry commission tasked to determine fairness or otherwise of the 2013 general election has given it what looks like a clean chit.
After hearing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and others who contested fairness of the polls and the winners, Pakistan Muslim League (N), it said that “it cannot be said on the evidence before the commission that on an overall basis the elections were not true and fair reflection of the mandate given by the electorate”.
This is the commission’s verdict on the allegation, levelled by the PTI and others, that the 2013 polls were extensively rigged and thus the electoral mandate was stolen. The verdict of the commission is more in terms of findings based on the evidence presented before it rather than a court order, and therefore has no legal binding.
The commission’s report provides answers to the three questions, called Terms of Reference (ToRs), agreed upon by the PML (N) and the PTI. The PTI had alleged organised rigging of election on the part of the PML (N), and the onus was on it to prove its allegations.
But it could not: “the plan to manipulate election has not been disclosed with any degree of specification by any of the parties to the proceedings nor is it discernable from material placed before the commission”. But the chit given to the PML (N) by the commission is not as clean as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif claimed in his victory speech Thursday evening.
It does carry a few blemishes which the commission noted, and expressed its feeling by saying the demand of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was not “unjustified”. So, in the eyes of the commission the PTI’s demand for probe into the fairness of the May 2013 general election was justified.
The question then is: Was the PTI justified on its part to go such length as it did by staging a 126-day paralyzing ‘dharna’ in Islamabad in pursuance of this demand. We believe on this the public opinion is divided, though it is heavily tilted against the PTI leadership which perceptibly failed to strike a healthy balance between protest and national interest.
But then one must not lose sight of the fact that had he not resorted to this, the government would have continued repeating its mantra of seeking redress through the election tribunals and not paid heed to his allegations.
It is unfortunate that response of all governments in Pakistan is directly proportional to the nuisance value of the other party and therefore it is not unusual to see people resorting to methods to increase their nuisance value to get the government to act.
We also refuse to accept the extremists’ point of view that given the critical times the country is passing through the ‘doctrine of necessity’ has prevailed. Was it so, the sub text of the commission’s verdict would not have been so tough on the performance of mandated duty and actual performance of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which it dubbed as “shortcomings” and “lapses”, which came to light during the proceedings.
Whether the ECP had failed to hold the election in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Constitution or not, the onus is on the ECP – though the brief but crisp comments of the judicial commission on it in its verdict do aptly reflect the nearly consensual demand of all political parties for electoral reforms.
There is a lingering question about the nature of its composition, which unlike the prevalent international practice, is confined to members from the higher judiciary, who as compared to others in equal positions in administration may be better qualified to deal with electoral process as it passes through its various stages.
Even more important are issues like grant of voting right to dual-nationals, increased women participation, anti-rigging methodology and availability of impartial polling officers. A lot of work is believed to have been done already by a special parliamentary committee, but a legislation is still awaited.
How critical to political stability is the post-verdict scenario, the initial signs appear to be positive. As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says “it is a new beginning… The chapter of smears and allegations must now close”.
Since Imran Khan had promised to accept the inquiry commission’s verdict in letter and spirit, he said “therefore, we accept the verdict”. But, one hears some wild howls asking Imran Khan to make an apology to the nation and that he was the front man of some retired generals’ game plan. This should stop.
At this juncture of history Pakistan needs unity of thought and action on the part of its people and leaders. Yes, the PTI did go beyond the normal but that is now history. But he does deserve credit for highlighting free and fair elections as one of the most pressing imperatives for a working democracy.
Source: Business Recorder