Right after the 2018 general elections, the bone of contention between the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and several mainstream political parties was the lack of signature on Form 45 by polling agents. This was categorically denied by the ECP maintaining that the only reason that the results of the elections were delayed was due to a problem in the electronic portal. However the audit conducted by the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) — a group of non-governmental organisations working to reform electoral processes - has declared that 95 percent of the Forms 45 were not signed by the polling agents.

This news once again creates confusion and mistrust when it comes to the conduction of free and fair elections in the country. This point was raised after the elections as well but was dismissed as another political gimmick without providing any substantial evidence of no meddling in the affairs of the government. The delay in the result was also addressed very casually by the Chairman of ECP Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza Khan. It is about time that the government checks in with the inability of the ECP to perform the single function the body is expected to perform after every five years.

When asked to comment on the findings of FAFEN, an ECP official commented that the commission would produce their own data which will be more authentic than the audit conducted right now. This move is more of the same - several bodies deem it very convenient to just disregard the results produced by any body appointed to keep a check on government bodies and their functions. The audit has been conducted by the third party - neutral to the political developments in the country. If, every time, instead of admitting to the mistakes, officials indulge more and more in the blame games then the process of elections can never be as fair and transparent as we would like it to be.

The legality of the situation is also very clumsy because the entire process depends on the presence of polling agents and it would take several court proceedings for the parties to prove that the presiding officer did not allow the polling agents to sign the form. The burden of proof lies on the parties and in the 2018 general elections, if there were 70,000 such cases, then the parties need to provide proof for each single one. This is a lengthy process and can only be resolved if the ECP is held accountable for their performance and gross denial of the mishaps which occurred.