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Pragmatic approach

November 13, 2012

A POTENTIALLY disruptive confrontation involving the Election Commission of Pakistan and a number of lawmakers over the issue of dual nationality has been put off, at least until Nov 30. That is the new deadline the ECP set on Monday for lawmakers to submit their affidavits declaring that they do not hold dual citizenship. While the original deadline had expired last week, according to the latest reports around 200 lawmakers, including the prime minister, had not filed their documents. MNAs, senators and members of the provincial assemblies are all on this list. The Supreme Court had ruled in September that holding dual nationality for lawmakers is unconstitutional, and the ECP proceeded to seek affidavits following the apex court’s verdict. Around 12 legislators have already been disqualified for holding dual citizenship.

As a matter of principle, since the Supreme Court has ruled on the matter and as the ECP is insisting on it, lawmakers need to file their affidavits along with the requisite paperwork without delay. Senators especially should submit their documents as the upper house will remain after the present assemblies complete their tenure. Yet it is also true that general elections are on the horizon and with only a few months remaining before the assemblies complete their term, any drastic action taken against a large number of lawmakers at this point may upset the apple cart and create another unwanted confrontation between state institutions. Hence, it is imperative that all stakeholders — the lawmakers, the ECP and the Supreme Court — handle the matter tactfully and pragmatically to ensure a new crisis does not emerge. The ECP should work on creating an effective procedure through which candidates are thoroughly scrutinised for the upcoming polls to ensure dual nationals do not contest. Also, if the SC deems it fit, it can review its earlier order on the issue to facilitate a smoother democratic changeover. And if the legislators feel the law is unfair, perhaps they should amend the constitution to allow dual citizens to hold public office, though this newspaper agrees with the view that dual nationals are, as per the constitution, ineligible for public office in Pakistan.