For more than four months, the country has been in the grip of a political crisis due to the agitation launched by Imran’s PTI over alleged rigging in the 2013 elections, which Imran claims have been stolen from him through collaboration amongst PML(N), former CJ, Former COAS, MI, ECP, ROs, caretaker governments and GEO TV. These allegations have been publicly repeated by Imran Khan within the gaze of the national media from every convenient roof-top, demanding a probe by the Judicial Commission. The PML(N) government readily conceded the demand and sent a request to the SC for the formation of the Commission while the two parties remained locked in an arduous dialogue on the litany of demands presented by PTI.

It is a matter of record that the government consented to five out of the six demands and the dialogue broke down on the disagreement on the terms of reference (TORs) for the judicial commission. The PTI blaming the government for the failure of talks continued its agitation. The interesting aspect of the disagreement on the TORs, according to the sources privy to the dialogue process, is that while the government wanted to include the foregoing allegations of PTI in the terms of reference, the PTI backtracking on its publicly made allegations, insisted on an independent investigation about rigging or manipulation in the 2013 elections, including pre-poll rigging, rigging on polling day and post-poll rigging. Political analysts believe and rightly so, that the PTI took this somersault on the advice of its legal advisers and may be in view of the rejection of Imran Khan’s petition by the SC with regards to declaring the elections null and void.

It is however, a matter of great relief for all those who believe in the peaceful settlement of political issues through dialogue, that the two sides have agreed to resume parleys. It is hoped that the two sides will show maturity, prudence and flexibility to resolve all contentious issues and save the country from drifting into yet another undesirable crisis. Whether the SC agrees to form the Judicial Commission or not in view of its decisions and presence of article 225 of the constitution under which matters relating to rigging and irregularities can only be dealt with by the Election Tribunals, is not yet clear. There is a possibility that even if the SC agrees to the formation of the Judicial Commission and the two sides reach a consensus on the modalities of going about the probe through it, it might either entail doing away with article 225 of the constitution through parliament or some amendments in the Peoples Representative Act 1976. The process in any case would be long and arduous and both sides, more so the PTI, would have to show patience in this regard.

How and on the basis the forum entrusted to probe into the issue of rigging determines the legitimacy of the election process and the results in each constituency will also be an arduous undertaking. The PTI has been insisting on the thumb verification of voters and in case of certain constituencies, the Election Tribunals have referred the results to NADRA for thumb verification. The reports filed by NADRA have made the process of verification even more cumbersome and unreliable. The latest report of NADRA on NA-125 with regards to five polling stations reveals that out of 1254 votes put through the process of thumb verification, thumb impressions on 280 votes could not be verified. The plausible reason for this phenomenon is that the ink used for the thumb impressions was not long lasting and it may not be appropriate to authenticate or reject the results of the constituencies on the basis of such inconclusive evidence. The NADRA report, with regards to NA-258, also pointed out that the thumb impression on 23,432 ballots could not be compared or matched through the NADRA system because the finger prints were of poor quality seemingly due to a lack of essential properties of the ink and inkpad used in the balloting process. Some experts believe that the technology available with NADRA to verify thumb impressions on the paper used for ballots also needs improvement and perhaps the introduction of electronic voting in the future could help to remove complaints in this regard.

It is pertinent to mention that former Chairman NADRA Tariq Malik revealed that about 57,000 ballot papers of NA 256 could not be read by the NADRA system because magnetic ink of the proper quality was not used. Secretary ECP stated that PCSIR was requested to prepare magnetic ink with required properties. As is evident, reliance on verification of thumb impressions to verify rigging is not reliable at such a belated stage. Declaring the non-verifiable votes as bogus would also not be a preferred criteria.

With regards to bogus votes, the term applies to a vote polled by a person other than the registered voter. To ward off the possibility of this practice, the ECP prepared voter lists with the photograph of the voter; these lists were available at all the polling stations of each constituency. The chances of the casting of the vote by any person other than the voter himself therefore, were minimized as the agents of candidates present at each polling station could easily identify the voter before the issuance of the ballot paper to the voter. Very few people who have been alleging rigging or are engaged in probing rigging allegations, have paid attention to this aspect. In my view, in the absence of any other reliable verifying mechanism, the counting of the counterfoils of the ballots in each constituency, should be the preferable criteria. This will provide information as authentic as possible, with regards to bogus voting or the alleged stuffing of the ballot papers by comparing the number of counterfoils against polled and counted votes.

The writer is a freelance columnist.