After two years of uncertainty and histrionics, and amidst much wailing and gnashing of teeth by PTI supporters on social media, the Judicial Commission charged with investigating allegations of rigging in the 2013 general elections has finally delivered a verdict that has simply confirmed what many non-partisan observers have been saying for some time: while there were irregularities in the 2013 polls, these were largely the result of incompetence and mismanagement by the ECP. Similarly, while there were also instances of fraud and rigging (a fact confirmed by over a dozen election tribunals), these were mostly localized attempts by candidates and incumbents to gain an unfair advantage. While both of these observations raise important questions about the electoral process in Pakistan, the Judicial Commission agreed that they did not amount to evidence in support of the notion that the elections were subjected to a systematic and orchestrated campaign of rigging engineered by the PML-N and its supporters in the caretaker government.

Following the release of the Judicial Commission’s report, considerable attention has been focused on the tactics used by the PTI in its pursuit of electoral accountability. Given that a lack of evidence was cited as one of the reasons why the PTI failed to make its case before the Judicial Commission, questions have been raised about what Imran Khan and the party’s leadership was thinking when they launched the sit-ins that paralyzed Islamabad (and other parts of Pakistan) for much of 2014. Indeed, given the PTI’s relentless and blistering assaults on the government, the opposition parties, and elements of the judiciary, as well as its constant reference to irrefutable proof of electoral misconduct (most memorably and embarrassingly encapsulated by the infamous ’35 punctures’), it is fair to wonder about the party’s motivations. Did it see the issue of rigging as being one that would allow it to tap into a broader vein of popular discontent; was it simply using the issue as a cynical means through which to bring the government down by any means? Or was it, as some have argued, a pawn in the hands of the establishment, being used to cut Nawaz Sharif and his party down to size?

The truth of this matter might ultimately remain indeterminate but in a way, it is also irrelevant. Amidst the pillorying the PTI is currently receiving, it is tempting to cast the Judicial Commission’s verdict as a victory for the PML-N. This might not be entirely incorrect, given how the decision vindicates the government’s claim that it was brought to power on the basis of a popular mandate. However, it is also important to remember that, as the Judicial Commission itself points out, calls for an investigation into the 2013 elections were not entirely unjustified. The fact that systematic rigging was always going to be difficult to prove does not mean that attempts might not have been made to unfairly influence the outcome of the elections and, if nothing else, the woeful performance of the ECP, and the manner in which its mismanagement might have facilitated rigging (locally and otherwise) demonstrates the need for urgent electoral reform.

This issue is one that illustrates why it would be misleading to view the outcome of the Judicial Commission as an unqualified victory for the PML-N. After all, while the PML-N may now be insulated from those who question the legitimacy of its electoral success, the fact remains that this government continues to display a worrying lack of vision and interest in governance. Previously in this space, I have argued that the PTI would have been better served by devoting its energies to strengthening the electoral process through parliament. While this is still true, it should not detract from the fact that the PTI’s counterparts in the National Assembly suffer from a similar lack of desire to enact meaningful and substantive reform. Sadly, it seems more likely than not that the Judicial Commission’s verdict will simply be taken by the government as a signal to continue with business as usual.

This, however, should not be acceptable. At a time when the now annual floods that devastate Pakistan are once again exposing the inability of the authorities to do even the bare minimum to protect the lives and livelihoods of millions of Pakistanis, and when the Sindh government feels it is perfectly reasonable to hold cabinet meetings in Dubai even as the province suffers from continued neglect, it is more important than ever to hold the government accountable for its failings. In a context where the country’s democratically elected representatives continue to cede space and authority to the military while simultaneously presiding over rampant corruption, power outages, and violence (to name just a few of Pakistan’s many, many problems), it becomes clear that the status quo cannot and should not be tolerated.

It is often worth thinking about what the purpose of government really is. After all, when it comes to measuring deprivation, through levels of poverty, or infant mortality, or literacy, or gender empowerment, or any of the myriad indicators that are often employed for this purpose, Pakistan consistently ranks near the bottom. As such, it could be reasonably argued that many in this country would, under ideal circumstances, expect the government to address these issues, existing primarily to better the lives of Pakistan’s citizens. Following from this, it might also be reasonable to assume that those who stand for public office do so in order to deliver on these objectives.

This ideal does not, unfortunately, match reality. Pakistan suffers from a number of structural constraints that continue to impede effective governance, none of which are likely to be addressed in the absence of a commitment to change backed up by solid policy proposal rooted in a broader ideological vision for society. The PML-N, PPP, and other mainstream parties are often lambasted for being little more than vehicles for elite interest motivated by a desire to pursue and protect the interests of the rich and powerful. This is a criticism that is not too far off the mark, and which also helps to explain why these parties largely fail to deliver on their promises of effective governance: they lack both the will and the desire to change a system that works for them (if not for anyone else).

As such, it is clear that this country needs a strong and powerful opposing force that represents the democratic aspirations of the people, and which is willing to fight the status quo. The military is not the answer to this particular problem, a fact amply demonstrated by its forays into politics in the past. However, it is also clear that, for all its protestations to the contrary, the PTI is not the right entity for this task either. Like the PML-N and the PPP, it lacks a coherent ideology and strategy for change. It is very easy to talk about change but much harder to actually deliver it and on current evidence, there is little to suggest that the PTI has given much thought to how it would radically transform Pakistan. The Judicial Commission’s verdict may paradoxically strengthen the PML-N’s commitment to inactivity and poor governance, but it has also categorically demonstrated the cluelessness at the heart of the PTI’s politics.

The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS.

hassan.javid@lums.edu.pk