THE final report of the European Union Election Observer Mission on the February 18 general elections issued at Islamabad on Wednesday brings out virtually the same malpractices and deficiencies that the general public, as well as independent media, here and abroad, had been complaining about. Much to their annoyance, though, the government of the day had turned a deaf ear to their grievances and at times flatly denied their justifications. However, the malpractices - the use of official resources for the benefit of the electoral campaigns of the candidates of the PML-Q and its coalition partners and their disproportionate exposure in the state-run media, as mentioned in the EUEOM report - were too evident to be kept hidden from even a casual observer. Similarly obvious was the official reluctance to remove complaints, on the one hand, and the people's accusation of 'pre-poll rigging' on the other. Therefore, there would be no disputing EUEOM's conclusion that the polls were below 'a number of international standards'. The acute sense of insecurity culminating in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the imposition of Emergency involving the suspension of the Constitutional fundamental rights and the sacking of a large number of superior court judges, including the Chief Justice, could not possibly be termed as measures directed towards conducting free and fair polls. The unhealthy environment thus created could only impinge upon the genuineness of the entire electoral process. The EU observer mission has, therefore, pointed out that these constricting conditions can 'damage public confidence' in the system. And quite expectedly, the Election Commission has reacted with its earlier position. In the words of its Secretary Kunwar Dilshad, "Elections were held in a transparent manner and free of any coercion." The EU observer mission has made recommendations what one would call commonsense and fundamental requirements of free polls; for it should be understood that there need be an independent judiciary as well as election commission to ensure that the elections are free from rigging. and if there were any such instances, the situation could be redressed through quick decisions on complaints. The EUEOM's 80 recommendations also emphasised that the Chief Election Commissioner and members of the Election Commission should be appointed after consulting the stakeholders and the Commission should be fully independent so that it could be held responsible for the mandated task. In order to plug the loopholes in the nitty-gritty of the electoral process, the Commission and the courts should lay down a proper procedure for an expeditious disposal of appeals and complaints. The report has also rightly stressed the need for the impartiality of the state-run media.