ACCUSING the PML-N, caretakers, the Election Commission and judiciary of unprecedented rigging against it in 2013, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is threatening a long march. Other parties have also complained of rigging though are not threatening drastic action. So, were these elections rigged?

Since politicians often employ hyperbole, one must review the reports of neutral election observers ó the EU, the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Pakistan-based Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen). While all three identified pre- and election-day flaws, none questioned overall electoral credibility.

The EU and NDI, having monitored Pakistani elections for decades, actually termed overall election processes significantly improved. None reported systematic rigging against the PTI. The EU and NDI did report that the PPP and Awami National Party were not allowed by the TTP to campaign freely in KP. This ironically benefited the PTI. Thus, inferences from neutral reviews actually paint the PTI as an indirect beneficiary rather than victim of electoral flaws.

Data from a Fafen review of post-election complaint-handling also undermines rigging charges. Out of 410 complaints lodged with the ECP, 301 stood decided by May 31, 2014. While over 100 complaints are pending, election tribunals are not delaying PTI complaints only. If 21 of PTIís 58 total complaints are still pending, so are 28 of PML-Nís 66. The PTI had zero success rate to-date in its 37 decided complaints; the PML-N only had four successes in 38 decided complaints. Tribunals have de-seated two PTI but also nine PML-N winners to-date. There appears to be little evidence that the tribunals are biased.

Rigging evidence should be submitted to the courts.
Even if the PTI miraculously wins all of its remaining complaints, it would not gain power in Punjab or nationally. Even if the PML-N loses all complaints pending against it, it will retain power in both places. So, the alleged rigging has not tipped things decisively. There is a wide gap between PTIís massive rigging rhetoric and available evidence. Such limited rigging provides no justification for launching long marches which could topple democracy.

Even if democracy survives and the PTI forces early elections, there is no guarantee that it will win. Even if it wins, it may reintroduce ruinous 1990s-type politics as the PML-N may then attempt to topple the PTI early. Despite all its faults, the PML-N respected the PTIís 2013 KP mandate even though it could have cobbled a majority there. The PTI must reciprocate graciously or risk undermining the good things it is planning in KP governance-wise.

If the party has strong rigging evidence, it should submit it to the courts. If it feels that they are biased against it, before taking drastic measures like quitting assemblies and invading Islamabad, it should convince neutral civil society elements, eg bar associations, human rights groups, media, and other major opposition parties about its stand. It should not appear as judge, jury and executioner all alone.

Democracies allow legitimate protest. But, not even advanced democracies allow protest by people (like Qadri) planning overtly to topple elected governments unconstitutionally. PTI promises legal protests only for achieving poll reforms. But it hints of a premature end to PML-N rule. Such premature end, genuine reforms and constitutionalism are not all possible together given the enormity of required electoral reforms.

These include rules and mechanisms for time-barred disqualification of convicts and government defaulters; better mechanisms for appointing ECP members, interim governments and returning officers; constituency delimitation and voter list re-verification based on a new census, and stronger election day processes like electronic voter identification and voting and associated voter education etc. Poll reforms need two to three years to complete.

The PTI can only have any two of the three outcomes mentioned above together. If it chooses the early end of PML-N rule and constitutionalism, reforms are not possible since elections will become due in three months under a PML-PPP-appointed interim government. Secondly, if it chooses an early end to PML-N rule and reforms, it would mean an unconstitutional interim government institutes reforms over two to three years. Finally, it could choose reforms and constitutionalism by foregoing an early end of PML-N rule and pressuring it together with other political and civic groups to institute reforms over the next four years.

This is the sensible choice that genuine democrats should select. The PTI must publicly announce its commitment to assemblies completing their terms. This will help it gain the support of numerous political and civic groups currently wary of its intentions. Even if initially reluctant, the PML-N will be unable to resist their combined reform demands coupled with judicial pressure.