Should Pakistan allow dual citizens to contest elections? Yes

There's no rational reason for depriving dual citizens of a basic right.
Published Aug 02, 2019 03:58pm

Pakistan currently bars dual citizens from running for parliament. Article 63-1(c) of the Constitution says that "A person shall be disqualified from being elected or chosen as, or being a member of the Majlis-i-Shoora (parliament) if he ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan, or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state."

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is now proposing an amendment to this clause. Many are accusing the PTI of taking another u-turn as Prime Minister Imran Khan has vehemently opposed such a move on many occasions in the past. While the charge carries weight, the more important issue is whether the move itself makes sense on rational grounds.

This debate must be viewed from a human rights perspective which argues that the basic rights enjoyed by people by virtue of their citizenship must only be curtailed based on strong public security reasons.

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Democracies generally give priority to citizen rights over security concerns unless such concerns are serious and demonstrable. However, they avoid preemptively abrogating the basic rights of whole groups of citizens based on weak suspicions of possible future wrongdoings by them. Contesting elections is one such basic citizenship right.

Pakistan allows dual citizenship, but it stripped dual citizens off the right to contest elections — something that's available to all other law-abiding adult citizens — in the 1973 Constitution.

Thus, there is a very large qualitative difference between the two categories of persons barred from contesting elections — from specific individuals who have already committed a crime (Pakistan bans citizens from running for office if they are "found guilty of a corrupt or illegal practice under any law," among other things) to a whole group of persons who have not yet committed any crime. So, this is a preemptive ban.

In some cases, states do preemptively curtail some rights, but usually for brief periods, if the risk is high. So how high is the risk that dual citizens will actually harm Pakistan’s interests if they are allowed to become legislators?

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To answer this question, one must look at evidence from countries which have been allowing dual citizens to contest elections for decades, including most of the 19 countries with which Pakistan allows dual citizenship.

In doing so, one finds no evidence that legislators with dual citizenship are usually or even often treasonous. In fact, dual citizens served even in Pakistani legislatures for several decades before the ban started being applied in earnest after 2008. But even from Pakistan, there is no evidence that any dual-citizen legislator played a treasonous role.

People give the examples of Shaukat Aziz and Moeen Qureshi as dual-citizen politicians who harmed Pakistan’s interests and fled abroad. However, it is not established as fact that they held second passports.

Furthermore, while one can criticise some of their specific policies, it is hard to argue that their policies were more harmful than those of our other civilian and military rulers, some of whom also fled abroad despite not holding dual citizenship.

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Dual citizenship can potentially create multiple loyalties. However, when someone has to make a choice, he/she can also prioritise one’s country of birth, present residence and high-level political involvement over the country where one is merely a naturalised, non-resident or ordinary citizen.

People argue that the American oath requires renouncing previous loyalties and bearing arms. Adapted from 16th century British oaths, it has become antiquated and unenforceable. The United States started allowing dual citizenship in 1967 (for Pakistanis, a formal treaty in this regard was signed between Washington and Islamabad in 2002) which means that immigrants can retain previous allegiances and run for public offices. The country also abolished its conscription laws in 1973.

The potential minor risks associated with dual citizens do not justify preemptive, lifetime and group-wide bans. At most, some precautionary measures would suffice.

The concern is that people who have no ties or investment in Pakistan may become legislators. To address it, the parliament could mandate residency and tax filing requirements of two or three years before one could become a legislator or cabinet member.

These requirements would apply not only to dual citizens but to all Pakistanis, including those who may be living abroad on long-term work or residency visas. Even otherwise, it is unlikely that anyone could win an election in Pakistan without fulfilling such residency requirements and developing roots in a particular constituency.

This would make it impossible for persons without any stakes or residency in Pakistan to be appointed to reserved assembly and senate seats or as governors, cabinet advisers or special assistants.

Dual citizens could also be barred from certain sensitive elected and non-elected executive positions, such as prime and foreign ministers, rather than ordinary parliament seats which individually have limited authority.

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One finds no rational reason or evidence for depriving dual citizens of their basic right to contest elections. In fact, the arguments in favour are part of the xenophobia that swept Pakistan once ties with Western countries deteriorated after 2008. This is borne by the fact that there was little effort to apply the bar on dual citizens before that year.

Now, as ties start to mend after Imran Khan's visit to the US, it is hoped that this xenophobia will start to recede. Not only should Pakistan permit dual citizens to contest elections, it should also increase the number of countries with which dual citizenship is allowed.

With globalisation, dual citizenship is becoming more common and beneficial for not only the individuals but also the countries involved. Pakistan should join the trend more prominently.

Header illustration by Leea Contractor

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