Salman Masood - The judicial commission probing allegations of massive rigging and fraud in 2013 general elections has given its verdict and there are no surprises if initial leaks are to be believed. The judicial commission has not endorsed Imran Khan’s much trumpeted claim that election mandate was stolen from him through an organised and systematic conspiracy, hatched by an unholy collision of the judiciary and Nawaz Sharif.

Throughout the 85 days of commission’s proceedings, it was observed by legal practitioners and predicted by political pundits that the evidence provided by Imran Khan might prove to be too weak and circumstantial, having little strength to withstand judicial scrutiny and validation.

During the course of the inquiry commission, Imran Khan himself backtracked on many of the claims that he had made vociferously in the public domain, the most glaring being about the role of former Punjab caretaker chief minister Najam Sethi.

While Imran Khan himself showed immense enthusiasm in the proceedings of the judicial commission — making sure that he was present in almost all hearings — the public mood had substantially shifted.

Imran Khan had built his politics around the edifice of rigging allegations in the 2013 general elections. In a constant stream of forceful public statements of the past one and a half year, Imran Khan had hammered down the message that the elections were rigged and he was wronged. Initially, he got traction and last year’s protest sit-in helped him to reinforce his allegations.

But the anti-climactic drawdown of the protest sit-in outside the parliament had worn out the public stamina. Fatigue had started settling in with Imran Khan’s claims and while hardcore Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf loyalists stuck to their guns, it was clear that Khan stood isolated in the political arena.

Now, the last hope of the party has been snuffed out.

“The reported findings of JC will come as a major blow to the political stance of Imran Khan,” said Raza Rumi, columnist and political analyst. “His utterances influenced millions of Pakistanis, many of whom were also convinced of rigging.”

Rumi noted that electoral rigging was a charge that has been used by political opponents in Pakistan to discredit the winning party, often with the support of elements within the security establishment, who prefer weak civilian governments.

“Khan’s party could not produce the much touted evidence of rigging. But his hardcore supporters won’t be deterred,” Rumi said. “PTI resembles a one-man cult than an organised political party and much of its agenda hinges around the heroism and incorruptible persona of its leader,” he added. “There will be many questions about Imran Khan’s political judgment but it is not going to majorly impact his appeal to his constituency.”

Imran Khan appeals to urban, middle class and youth segments of Pak electorate, who believe that one clean man can fix Pakistan, and they are expected to dismiss the findings of the judicial commission as yet another instance of the status quo forces thwarting the rise of “a financially honest politician”.

“Imran Khan’s politics has been dented significantly,” said Najam Sethi, the former caretaker Punjab chief minister and one of the most prominent political commentators of the country, when his comments were sought. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz will get a major boost with the findings and is now expected to do well in the local body polls, Sethi said.

Furthermore, Nawaz Sharif is expected to complete his five-year tenure. Unless, Nawaz Sharif picks up a major fight with the military establishment, he faces no substantial opposition to his rule.

PTI can gain more if it focuses on issues that concern the daily lives of ordinary Pakistani voters instead of getting bogged down the perceived irregularities of the last general election, analysts say.

“This is an opportune moment for Imran Khan and his party to reflect on their strategy of derailing an elected government and allowing the establishment to gain more support in the wake of last year’s protests,” Rumi said.

It remains to be seen what course of action Imran Khan takes once the report is made public. If past is any guide, Imran Khan is not expected to back down and change course. He might become even more confrontational and agitational.

The writer is Resident Editor,

The Nation in Islamabad.