The PTI’s resort to ceaseless protests during the last several months to have the government agree to the formation of an inquiry commission to investigate alleged electoral rigging have finally borne fruit. Leaders from both the government and the PTI announced at a joint press conference on Friday that they had sorted out their differences over the terms of reference (TORs) – subject of a protracted argument – of the proposed commission. The three-point TORs include investigation by the commission to determine whether or not the 2013 elections “were organised and conducted impartially, honestly, fairly, justly and in accordance with the law.” There could be no hesitation on any one’s part to include this point since it has been taken directly from one of the Articles of the Constitution.
The other two points aim at addressing specific PTI complaints as they relate to the 2013 electoral exercise. As per the second point, the commission is to determine “if the last general elections were influenced or manipulated pursuant to a systematic effort or by design by anyone.” And the third point is about ascertaining “whether the results of 2013 general elections on an overall basis provided a true and fair reflection of the mandate of the people.” That pretty much meets the PTI’s basic demands. Negotiations being a process of give-and-take, however, the party has dropped its insistence on that in the event the elections are found to have been manipulated as part of systematic effort, the government should resign and call new elections. PTI has also given in on that the proposed judicial commission complete its work within 45 days. It has been left to the commission members to decide the time limit. Considering the inordinate amount of time the election tribunals have been taking to decide disputes over individual constituency results, the proceedings of the commission could drag on for an indefinite period, holding off a likely eruption of another storm of protests until new elections become due. For now, the agreement comes as a much welcome development for the democratic process. This would be the first time that the alleged rigging/irregularities are to be investigated by an independent commission.
There are other positive outcomes too. The immediate result is that the PTI is ready to go back to the assemblies to play its role as the second largest opposition party. Its candidate has already filed his nomination papers to contest by-election from NA-246. Once back in the National Assembly, the party has an important contribution to make to the deliberations of the parliamentary committee on electoral reform. It can help incorporate all the suggestions it deems necessary in the reform bill to ensure future elections are held in a completely impartial, fair and transparent manner. Needless to say, that would safeguard the interest of all political parties as also the voters, putting an end to an unsavoury ritual of rigging allegations surfacing after every election.
Last but not least, the prime minister, who yesterday took heads of all parliamentary parties into confidence on the PML(N)-PTI agreement, is required to ease concerns of MQM and ANP on the formation of a judicial commission to investigate vote rigging allegations before the issuance of an ordinance.