A Pyrrhic Victory – Commentary on the Verdict of the Judicial Commission

Let us not forget that the Judicial Commission’s mandate was to unearth systematic/organized rigging, and not the localized one in each constituency, which can only be handled individually by the election tribunals in view of the Article 225 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. If one remembers, this has been the source of contention between PTI and PML-N as to the possible terms of reference of the Judicial Commission. For me, the victory of PML-N was sealed when they managed to limit the Terms of Reference of the Commission to the investigation of the organized rigging. Any one conversant with the judicial and election system in Pakistan would endorse that the allegations of organized rigging could never have been substantiated.

If one looks at the three terms of references submitted before the Commission, the second term, the 2013 General Elections, “were manipulated or influenced pursuant to a systematic effort or by design by anyone”, actually sums up the whole mandate of the Commission. The other two terms, which relate to whether the 2013 elections “were organized and conducted impartially, honestly, fairly, justly and in accordance with law” and whether “the results of the 2013 elections, on an overall basis, are a true and fair reflection of the mandate given by the electorate”, were just the offshoots of the second term. Therefore, whatever the Commission decided about the second term would automatically be the verdict in the other two terms as well. So, the much-hyped contention that PTI has been defeated on all the three counts, as if three separate allegations had been leveled, is rather ill informed.

The mandate of the Commission, in general, was to probe in the involvement of a systematic or organized hand in the alleged rigging, which could not be substantiated by PTI, due to paucity of evidence in particular, and the proclivity of the PTI Leadership and its advisers/lawyers to self-destruct, in general — plain and simple. Imran Khan’s profane allegations against C.J Chaudhary and Najem Sethi were not even taken up by PTI during the proceedings. If PTI believed in the veracity of these allegations, it should have agitated them, or else it seems like a case of political mud- slinging and point scoring. Least of all, I fail to endorse it as a strategy by Mr. Hafeez Pirzada and PTI leadership.

The other allegations of printing of extra ballot papers, inaction on part of the Election Commission and the missing or incomplete forms were either not proved or they were considered as mere irregularities by the Commission, despite the existence of the section 70 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1976, which states that, “The failure of any person to comply with the provisions of the Act or the rules”, would render an election void. One could argue that this section pertains to the mandate of the election tribunal to investigate an individual election, which, as mentioned above, did not come within the ambit of the inquiry by the Commission.

Therefore, the focus of PTI leadership should have been to get the individual elections investigated either through the existing tribunals, or through a constitutionally empowered judicial commission which would have the mandate to open up the ballot boxes in individual constituencies. The success in the allegation of rigging in NA-125 and other such constituencies are for everyone to see, despite the glitches and hurdles one witnesses in the painfully slow process of the election tribunal, for which PTI should have actively participated in committee setup by the parliament for election reforms.

However, by declaring the 2013 elections as fair and in accordance with law, the Judicial Commission has dispensed with the need to reform the electoral process and the concomitant judicial system. Any one with an iota of interest in the electioneering would impress upon that the electoral system requires drastic reforms, which, first and foremost, would entail making the election staff permanent — not hiring them from judiciary or bureaucracy, giving them the requisite training to make sure that they fulfill all the procedural requirements, like filling up properly the form 14 and 15, introducing electronic voting,  and taking strict action against localized rigging besides speeding up the pre and post poll judicial intervention in the election process.

Further, Imran needs to beef up his core team of advisers and ancillary leadership, besides getting rid of opportunists and developing a mechanism which ensures that only honest and upright politicians join his ranks. The internecine wrangling and groupings within PTI, of which Imran recently took notice, also need to give way to a more unified and cohesive organization within the party. Allegations of default in payment of DJ Butt and others are not helping matters either. The governance in KPK has left a lot to be desired – the recent disaster in the local elections in KPK has also dwindled the PTI fan base. Imran’s stance on negotiations with Taliban has also attracted the ire of all and sundry.

Imran Khan needs to act swiftly, for the situation is akin to the initial stage of the 1992 world cup, where, after the initial defeats, Pakistan needed to win every subsequent match to qualify for the semi finals. He might require some miracles like the rain during the match against England, which gave Pakistan the valuable one point, but he also would have to imbibe the spirit of a tiger, which he displayed to win the rest of the matches and ultimately the much-cherished world cup.

Nauman Qaiser

Author: Nauman Qaiser

The writer is an Advocate of the High Court. He tweets @naumanqaiser and can be be reached at [email protected]