Finally, last week, the 237-page long Judicial Commission report put to rest the allegations of 2013 elections been massively rigged and manipulated. The interior minister, Chaudhary Nisar, has rightly said that the report contains lessons for both sides. On the one hand the PTI should realise that it should not have gone ahead with its allegations to the extent of demanding the resignation of an elected Prime Minister without any substantial evidence in hand. There is lesson for the government that there is a dire need to improve the electoral system of the country.

The mandate of the Commission was to look at the general election 2013 in a holistic manner to see if it could detect any particular pattern of illegalities and design which would indicate rigging which may have affected the overall result of the election and thereby failed to reflect the true will of the people.

The PTI submitted before the Commission that the PML-N had usurped the mandate through unfair means and that the plan of rigging was executed by the PML-N through collusion with the Returning Officers and the Presiding Officers, and the manipulation and manoeuvring of bureaucracy and election machinery. The PPP maintained that the election was ‘robbed’ and insisted on inspecting polling records of 68 National Assembly constituencies, to figure whether a plan existed behind the irregularities.

Since the inquiry was essentially of a civil nature, as the Judicial Commission , thus the balance of probabilities was adopted as the standard of proof.

At the initial stages of inquiry, the parties had not been specific in their applications in addressing the TOR’s, a questionnaire was prepared by the Commission and given out to all the political parties for their written response.

The Commission also sought and examined NADRA reports regarding the fingerprint verification. The reports revealed that the reason of non-verification of fingerprints was their bad quality as affixed on counterfoils. The Chairman NADRA, during cross examination, said that they used Automatic Fingerprints Identification System (AFIS), which may not pick a thumb impression for a host of reasons, including that the thumb was clean when affixed on ballot paper or it had a slight cut or that the grooves and ridges on the thumb had wearied with the advancement of age. A former Chairman of NADRA, Mr Mobin, told the Commission that the fact that a thumb impression could not be verified did not render it invalid or that such vote had not been legally cast. In almost all cases, the ballot papers contained valid identity card numbers and names that were, according to record, from the same constituency.

After examining the issue of printing of excess ballot papers and missing Forms XV in polling bags, the Commission reached the conclusion that “the plan or design to manipulate or influence the election has not been disclosed by the PTI or any other party with any degree of specification nor as to who and how were the same implemented…When the entire context of the elections are considered along with the meaning of overall basis, despite some lapses by the ECP it cannot be said on the evidence before the Commission that on an overall basis the elections were not a true and fair reflection of the mandate given by the electorate.”

Despite finally deciding that the deliberate, systematic plan to rig elections could not be proven, the Judicial Commission has highlighted the shortcomings on the part of the Election Commission of Pakistan. These weaknesses highlight the areas the ECP should take care of in any upcoming elections- local bodies or general. The Commission has cited the following instances:

a) The formula for determining excess ballots i.e. rounding up on the basis of polling stations was not adequately communicated to the ROs.

b) The decision to rely on only 4 printing Presses was fraught with danger especially due to the lack of capacity of the Lahore Printing Press. The PCP had no automated system for numbering which had to be done manually and therefore extra personnel would most likely be needed for this purpose.

c) The belated shifting of ballot papers from one press (PCP Lahore to PCP Islamabad to the Postal Foundation) to another and even belated outsourcing to the Postal Foundation, printing of a large No. of excess ballots and late hiring of printing related staff due to a lack of capacity and uniformity in large part lead to suspicion on the part of the PTI that there may have been an attempt to rig the elections by printing excess ballots at the 11th hour in a surreptitious manner could have been avoided with proper planning.

d) There was a failure to establish and use on election-day an effective Results Management System (RMS).

e) The ECP had still not acquired its own storage space where as per law it was required to retain the polling bags under its custody and instead relied on treasuries where the post election material was stored in a very inadequate manner.

f) The chain of command and organisational structure between PEC, REC and DEC and DRO and RO and PO and their liaison as appeared in the ECP hand outs appeared largely in practice to be ineffective as very little information seemed to filter back to the ECP which in fact was the instructing body and had ultimate responsibility for the organisation and conduct of the election.

The Election Commission of Pakistan will have to work assiduously to improve the planning to hold elections in accordance with law.