ISLAMABAD: The last day for scrutiny of nomination papers brought heartbreak to three big names — former president Pervez Musharraf, former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the leader of opposition in the outgoing National Assembly.
However, nomination papers of a number of other heavyweights had already been accepted. Among them were Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Imran Khan and Faryal Talpur.
Pervez Musharraf’s papers were rejected by returning officers in three constituencies — Karachi (NA 250), Islamabad (NA 48) and Kasur (NA 139) — while the returning officer in Chitral (NA 32) dismissed all objections to his candidature, contending that he had not been convicted in any case so far. Raja Pervez Ashraf’s papers for a seat in Gujar Khan, his native town, were rejected by the returning officer on the ground that he had “violated the principle of transparency” in the rental power plant case.
Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan saw his candidature for a National Assembly seat (Pindi-IV NA 3) and a Punjab Assembly constituency (Pindi-VII PP 7) shot down on the ground that he had not declared his assets in full.
However, all is not lost yet for those whose nomination forms have been thrown out since they can still contest elections by successfully arguing their cases before election tribunals headed by judges of the high courts.
The candidates have until April 10 to file appeals against the decisions of ROs in election tribunals, which have to dispose of the cases by April 17.
According to senior lawyers, unless there are some obvious charges against the candidates on the basis of which their papers have been rejected, the election tribunals take a lenient view and allow them to contest elections.
Talking to Dawn, former attorney general Maulvi Anwarul Haq said the main task of election tribunals was to review the decisions of ROs and see if these were taken appropriately.
“On the basis of my personal experience, I believe it is highly unlikely that an election tribunal will reject nomination papers of a candidate on the basis of mere allegations, as have been levelled in some of the cases,” he said. Moreover, he said: “ROs are also human beings and members of this society, who too can err. Also in cases where nomination papers have been rejected, candidates might have hired inefficient lawyers to argue their cases.”
About the rejection of nomination papers of Chaudhry Nisar for NA 52 and acceptance of the same for NA 53 and PP 6, Mr Haq said the proposition could be different in the constituency where he was declared disqualified. Legally, it was very much possible, he added.
Barrister Zafarullah Khan, one of the complainants challenging Gen Musharraf’s bid to contest election from NA 48, also agreed that it was legally possible that candidates got their nomination papers cleared by the election tribunals because judges didn’t listen to unreasonable and illogical arguments since they had to dispose of appeals on an emergency basis.
“No matter if the candidate is a former president, prime minister or leader of the opposition, fairness of the system should prevail in the end,” he added.
Barrister Khan defended the strict scrutiny of politicians and said that under the constitution people had given this right to the judiciary to ensure that truthful candidates were elected.
While some senior lawyers described the impertinent questions being asked by returning officers as part of an evolutionary process under a fully empowered and independent Election Commission of Pakistan, others found fault with the training of members of the lower judiciary.
Some of them put the blame on judicial activism the country had been witnessing since the restoration of superior judiciary in March 2009.
“When a district and sessions judge sees and hears members of the superior judiciary taking on senior key government officials and sending an elected prime minister packing, they feel emboldened and their conduct during the verification of nomination papers is just a reflection of that,” said a senior Supreme Court lawyer, who didn’t want to speak on record. With this discourse in play over the past few years, he added, they were really feeling empowered.
Moreover, he argued, there was a constant pressure of the Supreme Court on the ROs to grill politicians on the basis of articles 62 and 63 of the constitution, which “I personally believe has primarily led to their aggressive questioning of the candidates”.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had impressed upon the returning officers to play a proactive role in checking nomination papers of politicians.
Addressing district returning officers, returning officers and assistant returning officers of Hyderabad, Jamshoro, Matiari, Tando Muhammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Mirpurkhas and Thatta at the District and Sessions Court, Hyderabad, late on Friday night, the chief justice said that during the scrutiny it must be ensured that a candidate was the right one as laid down in the constitution.
Mohammad Ramzan Chaudhry, a member of the Pakistan Bar Council, gave an interesting reason for the ROs pouring scorn on the politicians. He said the live media coverage of the hearing in the Supreme Court had set a bad precedent for members of the lower judiciary, who too wanted to bask in the countrywide publicity, which they were receiving over the last few days.
“Who doesn’t want media attention,” Mr Chaudhry quipped, adding that many of the ROs whose visuals TV channels were repeatedly playing had become instant celebrities within their ranks.
But Moulvi Haq was of the opinion that since the Election Commission had been implementing election laws for the first time in letter and spirit, such hiccups were natural outcome. But he said that along with special training for ROs, new legislation was required to further clarify election laws.