The interest the international community showed in the 2008 elections in Pakistan has, without a doubt, not been seen since then. In 2008, a massive number of election observers came to Pakistan for obvious reasons: the transition of power from the military to a civilian establishment. General Pervez Musharraf, after almost a decade, was finally convinced to give space to a democratically elected regime. This was a significantly important transition as the world wanted Pakistan’s democracy back on the rails. But since 2008, the level of interest for foreign observers has dropped considerably, which on the positive reflects that the world is content with the continuation of civilian governments. Peaceful and transparent elections will further improve Pakistan’s image. However, this is easier said than done.International observers mostly visit the polling stations in the majority of the big cities, except for no-go districts for which the Ministry of Interior either rejects Travel NOCs applications or share a list with international organisations and observers missions. No-go areas are decided on the basis of the security situation, potential violence or threats to the delegates. A large number of no-go districts are usually marked in Balochistan, South Punjab, KP’s southern districts, and FATA. These are usually the districts where an independent election observation becomes a challenge. Since 2008, civil society has established a mechanism of local observers using the Free and Fair Elections Network (FAFEN). Peaceful and transparent elections will improve Pakistan’s image. However, this is easier said than done given the on-ground realities and challengesEvery time, these observers expose the new methods being used to rig the polls. In the old days, election fraud was done through ballot papers. Now it is largely done through propaganda, controlling voter’s traffic on polling booths or stopping marginalised members, mostly women, from voting. For instance, in 2013, women were stopped from voting in several districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while they hardly participated in the elections in FATA and Balochistan. Women account for nearly half of Pakistan’s population, but due to local customs and traditions, men don’t allow women to vote. They also don’t like them standing in queues outside polling areas and hardly make any transport arrangements for their women because of lack of resources. The government, on the other hand, has never taken any special initiative for female voters to encourage their participation in the elections.Secondly, in 2013 elections, some of the polling stations in Karachi and other big cities witnessed votes in hundreds while others in thousands. Obviously, this raised many concerns about candidates exploiting voter traffic. Nabeel Gabol, who contested for National Assembly seat from Karachi, was himself shocked to see nearly 140,000 votes polled for him including a polling station which received more than 50,000 votes for him. In the rural areas, the access of voters to polling stations remains a challenge. Every candidate makes arrangements to provide transport to his or her voters. Powerful candidates rent public transport on the election day.As a result, an ordinary candidate receives fewer votes as they fail to provide competing arrangements to their voters. In the 2008 elections, I rented around 40 Land Cruisers for international observers on a reasonably high rent compared to the market to ensure their commitment. One day before the polls, all of the Land Cruisers disappeared from the duty station in Islamabad, and lately, we found that powerful politicians from Gujrat had paid the owners twice the rent for election duty.Police harassment during elections is a typical election-rigging tool in Pakistan, India and few other countries. In Punjab and Sindh, elites and feudal lords keep close contacts with local establishment especially police and district management. These local authorities are then used to harass locals on election day. As a result, voters’ access to the polling stations becomes difficult. Recognising these realities, parties such as PTI, who took a stand against the status quo, eventually gave the majority of the tickets to the rich and powerful ‘electables’ for the 2018 elections. This primarily reflects the reality of Pakistan’s elections, where a wealthy or powerful candidate buys or rents all the resources on election day, leaving other parties helpless.These challenges combined with security issues, intense temperatures and lack of proper arrangements at polling stations will determine whether voter turnout exceeds 53 percent of the 2013 elections. The increased turnout will mean more participation from youth and women and will resultantly increase the transparency and fairness of the polls.The writer is media and communications professional with experience as elections observer both in Pakistan and outside. He can be contacted at email@example.comPublished in Daily Times, July 16th 2018.