When I entered the election arena this year I had two objectives in mind, to see Imran Khan sit on the prime minister’s seat, and to utilise whatever legal and political capabilities I have for the betterment of Pakistan and my constituents. There was also this desire to see Pakistan grow as a democracy through an election that would be fairer and more transparent than any previous election. July 25 and its aftermath has, however, left me, along with several other Pakistanis, with a lot of questions. I will not jump to any conclusions to the effect that the elections were rigged to favour a certain party. Trust me they weren’t. Or that the elections were rigged at all. Nor will I propose that the establishment engineered the elections to favour a certain group of candidates, belonging to different political parties, to have a stronger grip on the incoming government and its prime minister. I will, however, comment on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s apparent failure to abide by its constitutional obligation, as contained in Article 218 (3) of the Constitution, to ensure that “the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law”. It is pertinent to point out that any violation of law or laxity on part of the ECP, as will be discussed below, is not being cited as the reason behind Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) success in these elections. I believe PTI may have come out with more seats if these transgressions or alleged manipulations were disallowed or avoided. My concern is more with the plethora of legitimate complaints and reservations from all over the country which marred the election process. These irregularities, illegalities and laxities have taken our electoral process back to the Dark Ages. And even if rigging was not the objective, these allegations if not reasonably rebutted or rectified, will be a mammoth disservice to Pakistan; its democracy and its people. The Elections Act 2017 (the Act) had created a three-way check on the transparency and fairness of the elections. First was the presence of polling agents of candidates at polling stations, especially at the time of counting of votes as per Section 90 of the Act. Widespread complaints of allegedly disallowing the polling agents from witnessing the count is alone sufficient in tarnishing any tinge of transparency in the election process, wherein counting of votes is of the utmost significance. The presence of polling agents of candidates at polling stations, at the time of the counting of votes as per Section 90 of the Act, was essential. Second was the problem where not all presiding offers provided polling agents with Form 45. Several thousand polling agents from all over the country were allegedly turned away, and this mandatory provision of law was not only ignored but trampled upon. Third was the Result Management System (RMS) established under Section 13 of the Act, whereby it was mandatory for the ECP to establish a transparent RMS and to have the presiding officers upload the results latest by 2 am the next morning, leaving no room for manipulation. However, despite having established the system, presiding officers stopped uploading results at around quarter to 12. Reasons for not following mandatory provision of Section 13 have been given, yet remain controversial. In the absence of any check on the transparency of the vote count where all three mandatory provisions of law were unilaterally suspended, and where there was an unreasonable delay in compiling of results at thousands of polling stations, any claim of transparency, fairness and abiding by law would not find ground. Considering the strenuous exercise undertaken for electoral reforms and legislating for the prevalent election laws, and the huge amount spent on these elections, it may not be wise to undo whatever has been done. It would, however, be nothing but prudent to review, revise and introspect. The first step would be to ascertain the truth in all these allegations. The most important question that then begs an answer iswho was in charge? If it was the ECP that was in absolute control, then ECP must hold itself accountable for allviolations, transgressions and callousness. Returning officers and presiding officers need to answer for wherever they have blatantly disregarded the law. for our incoming prime minister, it is quite important that he too looks at these elections with a little scepticism and ponders over why, if at all, there was any manipulation. Was it to keep him restrained and always under the threat of a regime change? Was it to clip his wings right before he was “gifted” with the sky to fly? As I said, I would not jump to any conclusions, neither should you. We should all, however, work together and strive for a stronger democracy and more power to the people. Work for a stronger, more powerful and apt ECP, which has the capacity to learn from, and rectify its own mistakes. As far as the allegations of manipulation are concerned, I can only hope that the establishment is wise enough not to have played that game, since these games are not played with tricks so transparent or machinations so undisguised. The writer is a practising lawyer with a Masters degree from University of Warwick and an ex-Member Provincial Assembly of Punjab (2008-2013). Tweets @ZafarSahi Published in Daily Times, August 12th 2018.