The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) posed a good question to an elections candidate yesterday. The chief election commissioner asked PTI candidate Nasir Cheema about why his campaign posters included pictures of the army chief and Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP). What was the implication behind showing the chief of judiciary and the army together? Pakistan is a democracy after all, with separation of powers, and to imply that the judiciary and army have teamed together is absolutely unacceptable; thus, the ECP rightly took the candidate to task for attempting to use the implication of electoral engineering for support.

The only glitch is that it is not just the candidate’s fault for making this connection between the state institutions. Unfortunately, despite their best intentions, it cannot be said that the actions of the CJP and NAB did not contribute to the allegation of bias. Despite NAB’s persistence that it does not interfere in elections, its departure from procedure to target PML-N candidates before the election belies its facade of neutrality. The SC has further ignited the flames, as the CJP, Saqib Nisaar appears to have let go of norms of separation of powers, when he visited AML President, and Nawaz’s opponent, Sheikh Rasheed’s constituency yesterday, in what seemed like a show of approval.

The CJP and NAB Chief have repeatedly rejected allegations of interference in elections but just denying these accusations does not mean that they are not true. There are certain norms that are expected from the judiciary and executive during elections to demonstrate their objectivity. One cannot blame the masses for thinking that the army and judiciary are colluding when the CJP appears to approvingly visit the constituency of a candidate, who has never been shy about his ties to the establishment. The CJP’s reassurances of no political engineering don’t mean anything if he looks to be approving Rasheed, who has been the petitioner in the Panama Case against Sharif.

For a free and fair election, there should be perception about the fairness of the system. Justice should not just be done, but also seen to be done. It is no wonder why people are speculating about electoral engineering when the CJP deviates from election norms to endorse a pro-establishment political candidate. There needs to be explanation for these deviations from electoral norms by state institutions, or perhaps we should abandon this pretence of a fair elections altogether.