The Citizens Group on Electoral Process (CGEP), working under Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development (PILDAT), and comprising prominent, non-partisan and generally respected national figures coming from diverse backgrounds, considered independence of judiciary, and the effectiveness and credibility of the Election Commission as the two most important parameters to judge the fairness of the pre-poll process.
Assessing the overall fairness of the pre-poll environment, spanning over 12 months, the group gave it a poor score of 26 on a scale of 100.
It also observed that the score was indicative of the fact that pre-poll phase had been unfair to a large degree and the prospects of entire electoral exercise to carry some credibility were extremely low, the Nation reported today.
The next crucial ingredient, in the eyes of the CGEP, has been the neutrality of the president and governors, followed by the neutrality of the caretaker and local governments, freedom of private media, maintenance of law and order and credibility of electoral rolls.
According to the report, neutrality of the president and governors received the lowest score - 14 on a scale of 100, indicating that this was the most damaging factor for the credibility of the electoral process.
Neutrality of the local governments and the effectiveness or credibility of the Election Commission were the two parameters which received the next lowest scores, 15 and 17 respectively on a scale of 100.
Other parameters receiving some of the lowest scores were neutrality of the caretaker governments (21) and the independence of the judiciary (22).
The freedom of private media has got the highest score of 49 on a scale of 100. The group believed that the recent restrictions imposed on November 3, 2007 during emergency through PEMRA laws, were still in force. Despite lifting the emergency, it appeared that the government was specially going out to economically cripple some media houses, the group noted.
Acknowledging the fact that the electoral rolls suffer from many defects, the CGEP gave its credibility the score of 38 on a scale of 100.
According to the group members, mainly taken from judiciary, media, academia, law, armed forces, civil bureaucracy, business and citizens organisations and belonging to all regions of the country, this score may be the second highest in a relative sense but in no way 'satisfactory'.
The group feels that the electoral rolls were suspected of being incomplete, containing bogus votes and were not up-to-date.
The report has also hinted at increased compulsions for manipulation and rigging in remaining phases of election if the popularity of the former ruling parties took a hit in the coming days, owing to the recent assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
''One may witness desperate acts to get the desired election results,'' the report mentioned.
However, the group warned that if the coming election turned out to be anything but completely free and fair, the challenges facing the country would compound and democracy, along with the future of the state, might face grave threats.
The pre-poll assessment report argues that while there was near consensus in the world and in Pakistan on the need for a free and fair election in the country, there was no consensus on the definition of what constituted a free and fair election.
Another contentious contradiction had been that unless an outrageous incident of rigging took place on the polling-day, the results were more or less acceptable, the report added.
The regime continued to insist that unless people come on the streets against the election results and there was widespread agitation, an otherwise flawed election would be acceptable.
The report maintained that this was a very dangerous line of argument and not only amounted to an open invitation to miscreants and lawless elements in the society, but ran contradictory to the democratic principle and in violation of the people's right to express through election.
It believes that even at this stage, the only way for holding a free fair and credible election was the reconstitution of the caretaker governments and the EC through consensus of political parties and civil society.
It contended that the future of democracy in the country was linked to a free and fair election. Not only the coming election was a great test for the country, but also the post-election challenges would put the leadership to extreme tests, it said.
''Only a leadership with a strong mandate by the people of Pakistan can have the strength to deal with such apparently-insurmountable problems,'' the report noted.