And just like that, Election 2024 is over.

Lacklustre from the beginning, the exercise concluded with a whimper last evening. Amidst limited reporting due to the suspension of communication services, there were some reports of delays in the polling process and various violations of rules and the election code of conduct.

Thankfully, though, no major incidents of violence were reported and voting seems to have concluded in most places smoothly and uneventfully. It seems that all that remains now is the counting of votes and declaration of winners. As results trickle in overnight, we will learn how many chose to exercise their right to franchise on this historic occasion.

Till a clearer picture emerges, some reflections on the exercise: These elections had been critical for Pakistan for various important reasons. The country is mired in unprecedented economic and social challenges, which cannot be solved except by a stable government that enjoys strong public support for its decisions. Given its dependence on international assistance, it is also important for it to stabilise socially so that lenders and investors can feel safe about their decisions. With so many different forces pulling the country at its seams, it was almost good luck that a general election became due last year.

All that was needed was for the Election Commission of Pakistan to let candidates campaign without restrictions, prepare the grounds for a clean and non-controversial contest, assist the country’s adult population in freely exercising their right to self-determination, conduct a transparent count of their ballots, and quietly and respectfully bow out.

As history will bear witness, it failed on almost all of those counts.

From repeatedly delaying the elections on one pretext or the other to failing to protect the legitimacy of its last act, it betrayed its mandate by organising an exercise that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. It is difficult not to be disappointed: given the number of times the Election Commission of Pakistan hid behind the Constitution’s “free and fair” condition to justify putting them off “till it was ready”, one would have imagined the exercise, whenever it was eventually held, would be largely irreproachable.

Of course, the blame does not lie with the Election Commission of Pakistan alone.

The caretaker government and the entire machinery of the state are equally culpable in robbing it of its sanctity. Their actions worsened political polarisation, and they did not know when to stop. As a result, the exercise was doomed to controversy well before it began. It already seems clear that it will not provide any closure for the country’s political crisis. Crisis and instability will likely continue to plague the nation, with dissent kept in check through the use of fear tactics. It is a shame that such a momentous opportunity has been so carelessly lost.

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