The Judicial Commission set up to investigate the PTI’s 2013 election rigging allegations has delivered an expected verdict: the poll was not rigged and the result reflected the wishes of the electorate. This was enough of an endorsement for Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif to come on TV and address the nation. He said that he would not use the occasion to boast of his government’s achievements, which he did not, perhaps because they were not enough in number. It was also uncharacteristically restrained of him because he had a local body election pending. Admittedly, the provincial governments have asked for a postponement because of the monsoon rains, but when the report was published, the polls were still scheduled.

Local body elections so far have not proved a departure from tradition: ruling parties still win, even though now the elections are held on party basis. However, the PTI was claiming the main opposition position in both the provinces going to the polls, and by having the report out before the elections, the ruling PML-N has tried to ensure that election rigging will not form part of the PTI’s election platform. True, PTI chief Imran Khan has accepted the commission’s report, but in the same breath, he has tried to keep the allegations alive.

However, the elections took place over two years ago, and to have kept them as an issue for over two years must count as an achievement. One of the main issues now facing the PTI is what to do next. Imran has given an indication in his post-report press conference when he says that it will play the role of an opposition party.

The PTI’s reaction shows it as a traditional party. Its followers seem to believe that the country faces a lot of problems, and those problems can only be solved by making Imran PM. The rigging allegations were made for that reason, but the incumbent refused to surrender supinely and argued that he had been given the right to form the government. The Commission was viewed with suspicion even before it was formed, with Imran also demanding Mian Nawaz’s resignation. He had said that Mian Nawaz would influence the enquiry in his favour. The excuse given for agreeing to the Commission without Mian Nawaz resigning was that there was the need to end the sit-in after the Peshawar school massacre. While that was indeed a cataclysmic event, it seems to have affected Imran’s alleged military backers enough for them to have him call it off. If there were indeed military backers acting as an umpire for whose finger Imran was waiting, it seems apposite that the massacre not only allowed a stern crackdown on militancy but also a reigning in of a party that had been accused of pro-militant sympathies.

However, the claim that the Prime Minister could influence the enquiry if left in office was already a vote of no-confidence in the probity of the judiciary, which was worthy of acting as Returning Officers, and which led to the ’35 punctures’ accusation against caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Najam Sethi, an accusation later withdrawn as ‘political talk.’ That accusation was not taken to the Commission, probably because there was no proof of it. The accusation that the Nawaz government has not released the judicial commission on the Model Town firing shows not so much PTI ire, as the opening made for a PAT re-entry into the whole affair.

The Commission consisted of judges, and judges need evidence. They cannot accept as true mere allegations. Imran has been shown as having made allegations. The problem is that the allegations are believed by his many followers, not just because they have faith in him, but because their experience of elections is that the results are not in sync with their desires. PTI supporters wanted it to win, and for Imran to become PM. He didn’t, that means the elections could not have been fair.

Incidentally, that puts the PTI in the same hero-worshipping category as the PPP. Just as much as there can be no PPP without a Bhutto at the head, there can be no PTI without an Imran at its head. The PTI has become what Imran had come into politics to combat: a political platform with the primary goal of bringing a particular individual to power. Imran’s support during the sit-in was not so much for boring old electoral reform, as for the exhilarating prospect of Imran coming to power. That he would have been accompanied by ‘electables’ was not a problem, as the parties of power, the PPP and the PML, were also both chock full of ‘electables’.

What is the touching faith that Imran was tapping? The belief that he could make a difference, and bring about the kind of relief that the other two parties were no longer offering. It should be noted that they both offered it when they began. It is almost possible to discern the PML first capturing popular support before Partition (just as Congress did in the areas now constituting India), then the Army, then the PPP, and now the PTI is attempting to, and making the same claims as the PPP. The PML-N emerged as one end of the political spectrum. These are how the political forces emerged, their alternations in power being a separate issue. The Army remains the elephant in the room, the political aspirant which will deny the loudest that it is an aspirant. The Army has placed itself above criticism by Operation Zarb-e-Azab, with no awkward questions being asked about who helped the militants now being pounded in it, or who carried out the Peshawar massacre. The Army has seen that civilian allies set up on their own (as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and PML-N founder Mian Nawaz Sharif did), but military dictators do not (except Pervez Musharraf, who is trying without much success to make a go of his League faction). However, the Army too is to come to power because it is expected to solve people’s problems, which centre around prices, power shortages and misgovernance. Politicians have hammered home the message that only elected governments can solve these problems, something even military rulers endorse by keeping the Constitution when they take over, and the result is that basically both support the same system.

It must also be noted that the Judicial Commission has not indicated how elections are to be reformed. The PTI too does not indicate how this is to happen, or what institutional reforms are needed. The demand for the resignation of the Election Commission members is symptomatic: the PTI seems to believe that elections will be fair if the right people are elected; just as the right person (Imran) will make the government right. The PTI holds back from the conclusion that the system is not delivering, not any particular ruler, and thus should be left to deal with the Commission’s Report as well as it can. The government has appealed for sanity to prevail and investment to resume, though Mian Nawaz should realize that one step he might be forced to by his present policy of appeasing the military, is being forced to hand over to the PTI.