The rally by PTI chief Imran Khan, in which he received the support of PAT and the Jamaat Islami, was supposed to be about electoral reform, but was more an illustration of one of the basic problems with democracy: a potential ruler accepting results.

It must also be noted that Imran also accused the government of having failed to fulfil its election promises, while claiming that his own party had done a good job of ruling Khyber Paktoonkhwa. This showed clearly that the appeal of democracy has been its superior ability to solve the problems of the people. It would therefore suit him to claim that the present government was cut from the same cloth as that which preceded it. Imran’s claim is the disquieting one that the elections did not throw up a government which would solve the people’s problems, which encompass such basic problems as load shedding, youth unemployment and the attraction of foreign investment. His solution: better elections.

In short, his claim violated the consensus on which democracy is supposed to be built: the rules of succession to political power are agreed in advance. Indeed, that is the principle on which all political systems are built. The Mughal Emperor inherited his position from his father, the preceding Emperor. If he had to go through a multisided civil war to do so, as did Aurangzeb, who fought his brothers and father, that would not prevent him from reigning for as long as he lived, which in his case was 48 years, enjoying legitimacy all the while. Accepting defeat is implicit in accepting the rules.

The purpose of an election is to produce a government. Even now, the government’s actions are carried out in the President’s name. That explains why the PTI gave a year to the present government. This reflects both that the PTI subscribes to the belief that an election was to produce a government, and that it had not yet exhausted the prescribed means of trying to overturn the result.

Though PTI representatives, from Imran down, were vociferous in their denial that the move represented any attempt to ‘derail the system’ (which is shorthand for a military coup), it couldn’t help but be noticed that the parties coming together were the ones that had backed the military: the PTI, PAT, and the PML(Q). The Jamaat Islami was also part of it, and though it had not backed the Musharraf regime, it had made common cause with the Zia martial law. Just as the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad was formed to contest the 1988 elections, an alliance is now shaping itself to back the military.

Another interesting aspect is Imran’s accusing the same media group of complicity in the alleged rigging as the one accusing the ISI of attempting to kill one of its anchors. The military and the media house are in conflict; Imran and the media house are in conflict. Is the coincidence too big to be true?

It must not be forgotten that the PTI, by claiming that the last elections were rigged, is probably claiming that it should have been elected. Rigging is claimed by the loser. However, by claiming that the elections were rigged, the PTI is raising up spectres that were best left alone. Who did the rigging? Imran is clearly not satisfied with the Khyber Pakhtoonkwa government that his party does have.

He appears to be claiming that the election was rigged because the PTI lost. That is a circular argument, and unhelpful. However, unlike the PPP, which has previously used this argument, Imran has propounded a solution.

Also, there is the question of the rigging method. Imran’s potential answer, as shown by his recounting demand, lies in the casting of bogus votes. Who controls the thousands of votes needed to change the results of just one provincial constituency, which translates into a very large number of votes to influence even one province. Apart from the problem of determining the result, is that of the machine. The truth is that contesting elections is not just a contest of ideologies, but also one of electioneering. That is what is meant by a ‘winning candidate’, someone who possesses the resources for a machine, both in terms of money, and of votes. As parties are meant to serve the purpose of contesting elections, those which attract such persons to their ranks, are the ones which will have large numbers elected, and form the government.

According to one narrative, these parties are controlled by the agencies, through exactly such candidates. The means of control? The prospect of delivering sufficient votes to determine the result of the constituency. If there are enough votes nationwide, one person (or organization) could control the national results. One means of preventing this is to verify the thumbprints of voters, which should correspond to the thumbprint on the computerized national ID card which must be produced by all voters. It must not be forgotten that local machines often ensure the casting of votes for a given candidate. There is often enough connivance in the latter by the polling staff, whose reward is being unharmed. This is separate from the votes that another agency delivers. Overtly, one such agency is the political party, but covertly, the agencies are at work. The logic for their involvement is that they have been involved in politics because of the need of Zia and Musharraf to win the 1988 and 2003 elections.

One possibility is that the break-up of the military-judicial consensus on military rule is spreading to the Election Commission. The Commission has been headed by a retired judge, and has to be on board in ensuring a controlled succession of military rule. The PTI protest intends to ensure that the new means of control favours it, and incidentally ensures the control of the party’s backers. Another possibility is that the PTI feels betrayed. The 2013 election should have brought it power. Instead, it only won in KPK, and the flow of ‘winning candidates’ was not as high as it should be.

The PML (N) and the PPP have both remained relatively quiet. Both are products of military rulers, both have stakes in the system. Both have a lot of ‘winning horses.’ They have not raised the question of electoral reform, but the PTI challenge of the mechanics leads to doubts about the system itself. And too often, the alternative to democracy has been military dictatorship. It cannot escape attention that the PTI and PAT are proposing something that has been dear to the hearts of military rulers- better democracy.

 The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.