KARACHI: Members of the public, civil society, professional bodies and trade unions have expressed their strong disapproval of the tactics being used to push the election process in a certain direction, demanding that no attempt be made by any quarter to vitiate the atmosphere that can lead to subverting the will of the people as the upcoming elections are of crucial importance to the future of the country.
The statement issued on Thursday has been endorsed by I.A. Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Mohammad Tahseen of the South Asia Partnership Pakistan, Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, Suleman Abro of the Sindh Agriculture Forestry Workers’ Coordination Organisation, Naseer Memon of the Strengthening Participatory Organisation, Jami Chandio of the Centre for Peace and Civil Society, Dr Tipu Sultan of the Pakistan Medical Association, Dr Manzoor Awan of the Sungi Development Foundation, Samson Salamat of the Centre for Human Rights Education, Farhat Parveen and Mir Zulfiqar of NOW Communities, Uzma Noorani of the Women’s Action Forum, Zahida Detho of the Sindh Rural Partners Organisation, Javed Qazi of the Forum for Secular Pakistan, Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Unions Federation, Saeed Baloch of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Dr Kaiser Bengali, Dr A.H. Nayyar of the Pakistan Peace Coalition, B.M. Kutty, Zulfiqar Halepoto and others.
“We express particular concern at the process of scrutiny of the candidates by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which amounts to Zia-era vigilantism and a disguised return to the ‘accountability before elections’ mantra. This whole exercise smells of mala fide intentions,” the statement read.
The members of civil society contended that the right to choose public representatives in parliament belongs solely to the people and no agency — courts, ECP, bureaucrats, etc — can arrogate this right to themselves by attempting to pre-select candidates on any pretext, leave alone taking recourse to Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution. These Articles, as they appear today in the constitution, are not the ones that were in the original 1973 constitution. These were gerrymandered by the military dictator Gen Zia-ul-Haq through the infamous 8th Amendment to perpetuate his dictatorial rule by promoting his own outlandish scheme of Islamisation.
Unfortunately, the rights activists added, the framers of the 18th Amendment also failed to do away with these incongruities.
It had been their consistent demand that both Articles 62 and 63 be repealed, as they provided a handle to right-wing religious fanatics and anti-democracy elements in the establishment to hound the political sections that they opposed, they said. “We reiterate this demand and call for the reinstatement of the original Articles as contained in the 1973 constitution. We also call for the repeal of all provisions introduced into the constitution by the military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq,” the statement further said.
“The said Articles are vaguely worded and open to misuse. In fact, even the Quaid-i-Azam would have failed the test had these provisions been applied then. It is questionable if the very authors of these clauses and other holders of high office then and now, including members of the judiciary, can pass these bars. Further, what is the locus standi of those who are today sitting in judgment on the candidates’ suitability in terms of Articles 62 and 63 and are they themselves qualified under the said clauses?” they asked.
They said the manner in which candidates were quizzed as if they were schoolchildren was also condemned. No expert in any subject could be expected to remember the answer to every question in her or his subject when asked randomly. Many of these candidates had held important positions, national and international standing and performed their duties creditably. Many of them devoted their entire lives to fighting for democracy, the rule of law, and the rights of the people. They cannot be insulted as such, the statement added.
‘Fake’ degrees They pointed out that the question of ‘fake’ degrees also needed to be seen in its proper context. The law that required legislators to be graduates was introduced by a military dictator, retired Gen Pervez Musharraf, with mala fide intentions in order to keep certain politicians out of office.
Also, the then dictatorial regime arbitrarily declared madressah sanads as equivalent to graduate degrees to enable their reactionary supporters to take control of the parliamentary process. It is worth mentioning here that no one has bothered to question the validity/authenticity of the so-called sanads issued by madressahs.
Today, that law does not exist and candidates who file their papers for the upcoming elections do not need to submit their degrees. The issue of educational qualifications has no relevance to the current elections. And the ECP has no legal locus standi in the matter.
Then the cases against ex-legislators being pursued today pertain to the last parliament and the ECP is mandated to hold elections today, the rights activists said.
Acquiring a forged degree was certainly a criminal offence and offenders must be punished for it, they said, but argued that the offence, if any, was committed between 2002 and 2008 and, as such, it was for the courts to deal with, and not the ECP.
“However, the courts must also take into the ambit of its proceedings all the legislators elected in 2002 and all the officers of universities and matriculation boards who had collaborated in issuing fake degrees. Moreover, this process of enquiry and dispensation of justice must extend to all judges, civil servants and other public officials. Targeting only politicians is an attempt to defame politics itself and pave the way for a return to fascist rule.”
The statement said the campaign against dual nationality holders was also untenable. Pakistani law allowed Pakistanis to hold dual citizenship with 16 countries. It is therefore, not an offence to hold dual nationality. Moreover, there was no law that denied dual nationality holders their political rights. If any restriction on their political rights was to be imposed, it is for the parliament — not the election commission or the courts — to decide.
The ECP’s campaign of a witch-hunt around Articles 62 and 63, educational qualifications and dual nationality amounted to disqualifying those whom the people considered their true representatives, they said. The activists said they could not allow the ghosts of laws, such as the Elective Bodies Disqualification Order, used by the first military dictator, Gen Ayub Khan, to claim more victims.
The ECP’s dictatorial-era tactics appeared to be tantamount to paving the way again for Zia-ist elements to control parliament, they said. “We have expressed full confidence in the independence of the ECP and we now call upon it to ensure that this public confidence in its fairness is maintained.”
The ECP cannot and should not become a court and parliament all rolled into one. The ECP’s mandate is to conduct fair and free elections and it cannot arrogate to itself the additional task of carrying out accountability of candidates. Democracy is all about the right of the people to choose their representatives freely and no barriers, under any pretext, should be erected in their way, the statement concluded.