The much-awaited final report of the 2013 General Elections Inquiry Commission, headed by the honorable Chief Justice of Pakistan, has been finally released for public consumption. The said report, spanning 237 pages, has been received amidst polarized reactions of joy (from PML-N’s supporters) and lament (from PTI’s sympathizers). And with it, an excruciatingly dramatized era of Pakistani politics is expected to come to an unceremonious conclusion.

The rhetoric of PTI, which started almost immediately after the 2013 General Elections, centered exclusively around allegations of electoral rigging that “allegedly” robbed PTI of its rightful political mandate. These allegations, at least initially, were directed at an elusive and moving target: Iftikhar Chaudhary and his cohorts rigged the elections; no, Najam Sethi and his accomplices rigged the elections; no, Nawaz Sharif’s premature speech turned the tide; no, the Election Commission of Pakistan and its (judicial) ROs tilted the scales against PTI. And riding on the tsunami of these piecemeal allegations, the rhetoric of PTI reached feverish pitch in August of last year, as a euphoric crowd of Imran Khan supporters inched towards D-Chowk in Islamabad, on the promise that Khan Sahib had that perfect in-swinging yorker (in documentary form, that is), which would send PML-N’s middle stump cartwheeling out of the government.

Despite the pomp and promises, however, while Khan Sahib persisted with his verbal bouncers, no in-swinging yorker was produced during the captain’s time at the container.

Then, as the barrage of bouncers did not dismiss the PML-N government – nor did the umpire raised its finger – the PTI leadership, as a sort of constitutionally adherent compromise, opted to appeal the matter to the third umpire – in this case, the Inquiry Commission.

Appearing before the Inquiry Commission, PTI and its lawyers claimed to have presented thousands of pages worth of documents, evidence, and testimony to substantiate their claims regarding the three TORs that were agreed to, per Section 3 of the General Elections 2013 Inquiry Commission Ordinance, 2015: (a) that the General Elections were not “organized and conducted impartially, honestly, fairly, justly and in accordance with law” (b) The said elections “were manipulated or influenced pursuant to a systematic effort by design” and (c) results of the elections were not, on “overall basis…a true and fair reflection of the mandate given by the electorate”. While most political parties supported (some of) PTI claims, these were vehemently opposed by PML-N as well as the Election Commission of Pakistan.

After several months of proceedings, the Inquiry Commission, through its report, has concluded that Imran Khan has failed in producing that in-swinging yorker, which has been the hallmark of mighty Khan’s illustrious career.

The final report meticulously outlines the procedure adopted by the honorable members of the Inquiry Commission, detailing the contents of the hearings, the questions framed, an assessment of the preliminary submissions by each party, the rules of evidence followed, list of witnesses examined, the burden and standard of proof adopted, as well as the conclusions reached. A dispassionate reading of the final report reveals the earnest effort made by members of the Inquiry Commission in reaching their final conclusions. Partisan sympathies aside, it must be said that the members of the Inquiry Commission, headed by the honorable Chief Justice of Pakistan himself, have done an admirable job in striking that precarious balance of conducting a neutral and patient assessment of fanatically diabolical viewpoints.

If there were any doubts as to the terrible consequences that could result from dragging the senior most members of the judiciary into the midst of a partisan battle, these must now be quelled and put to rest, in light of the honorable way in which these proceedings have been conducted. In fact, Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk’s conduct throughout the proceedings have gone a long way in dispelling the biased image of judiciary, which had arisen during the Iftikhar Chaudhary years. And this conclusion is substantiated by the fact that neither the PTI, nor PML-N or any other political party, has raised any qualms about having not been given a patient and appreciative hearing by the Inquiry Commission.

Heartbreakingly for PTI supporters, the Inquiry Commission has concluded that, despite certain irregularities (mostly on the part of Election Commission of Pakistan) during the 2013 General Elections, PTI has produced no conclusive evidence to substantiate their allegations in regards to widespread violations of the law, systematic rigging, or a robbing of the electoral mandate “on an overall basis”. And in so concluding, the Inquiry Commission, without mincing its words, places the entire responsibility (blame?) on PTI for not having produced the requisite legal evidence to support its contentions.

It is time now for Imran Khan and his supporters to gracefully accept the conclusions of the Inquiry Commission. They cried wolf, presented the entire corpus of their ‘evidence’ before the highest judges in the land, and came up short on the factual as well as legal scales. Maybe their contentions are true, maybe their claims are accurate, maybe they are only ones who see the light in a nation full of darkness, but for now, under our constitutional dispensation, they have played their hand and lost. And the mark of character as well as political longevity is to accept the constitutional command of the law.

Having said that, one cannot help but wish that the Inquiry Commission had done more in terms of enshrining the absolute and inviolable necessity of conducting completely (not partially) free and fair elections.

For the most part, what distinguishes functional democracies from all other forms of despotic systems of government, are two facets: 1) supremacy of the Constitution and 2) the necessity of absolutely free and fair elections. The Inquiry Commission report, while declaring that PTI has failed to substantiate their claims of systematic electoral rigging, goes on to accept several “irregularities” throughout the electoral process. What the report does not do, at least expressly, is to recommend a threshold of irregularities, which if breached, would render the entire electoral process nugatory.

The Inquiry Commission report seems to accept that some “irregularities” are unavoidable in conducting elections for a 200 million strong nation, without deliberating upon the issue of ‘how many irregularities’ would amount to an unfair election. What this does, above all, is open the gates for “irregularities” to be an acceptable part of our electoral process, encouraging would-be candidates to contemplate rigging methodologies that would stay within the undefined confines of acceptably ‘irregular conduct’.

Notwithstanding the lack of evidence to support PTI allegation, there is a need, in Pakistan, to critically review our electoral process and the law, to weed out the recurrent possibility of irregularities. This is only way to quell partisan bickering, and usher in an era of credible democracy.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.