“I’M the only person in Pakistan who has been disqualified under 62/63 and who has also been certified by the Supreme Court to qualify under 62/63.”
In this season of silliness, if not outright ugliness, over the silly, if not outright ugly, constitutional disqualification clauses, Raja Afzal is a throwback to a different era.
Accused of, among other things, running gambling dens, a bootlegging operation and even being a deserter from the armed forces, Afzal, the rags-to-riches political heavyweight of Jhelum, was disqualified by the Lahore High Court after winning his 1985 election contest — the first ever disqualification under 62/63.
Afzal was eventually declared eligible as a public representative by the Supreme Court, then very much under the thumb of Zia, the man who introduced the silliness and ugliness in 62/63.
Fast forward 28 years and there’s some irony that returning officers across the land have run amok at the behest of an independent Supreme Court — and now may have been reined in by a Lahore High Court order, a mini inversion of history.
Forget the demands to recite prayers and religious incantations. Those will be no more than a quirky footnote of history. So will the educational requirement actually, but it’s more important in the present tense.
Liars, crooks and cheats our parliamentarians may be, the fake degree ones and most others too, but their true failing is something else: a craven capitulation to the right-wing.
Articles 62 and 63 — the constitutional qualification and disqualification criteria for members of the assemblies — only exist in their Zia-era guise because the committee that was tasked to clean up the constitution and that gave us the 18th Amendment was unable to say no to Maulana Fazlur Rehman and those of his right-wing ilk on the committee.
There’s a little known history to this, one that I stumbled upon when the new, 18th-Amendment text of Article 91(3) was unveiled:
“After the election of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, the National Assembly shall, to the exclusion of any other business, proceed to elect without debate one of its Muslim members to be the Prime Minister.” (italics added) That requirement, of the prime minister being a Muslim member of the National Assembly, has been added to the constitution by the 18th Amendment.
Curious, I asked several of the parliamentary committee members why they had decided to deny non-Muslim MNAs even the theoretical right to become prime minister.
Initially, they feigned surprise, pretending they were not aware of the change they had signed off on.
Then one offered an explanation, which I’m paraphrasing here:
“The requirement that the prime minister be a Muslim member of the house was dropped from Article 91 by Zia’s changes to the constitution in 1985 because the oath the prime minister had to take was also changed then.
“The language of the new prime ministerial oath in 1985 was such that it became redundant to specifically state in Article 91 that he be a Muslim member of the house.
“Since we were tasked with going back to the original wording of the constitution, we just lifted the text from the 1973 version and that original version included the bit about the prime minister specifically being a Muslim member of the house.” No conspiracy there, apparently.
Except there was a conspiracy: a conspiracy of silence. Fazlur Rehman had put his foot down in the committee: the Islamic provisions had to remain.
Since no one in this blessed land of ours can challenge those speaking in the name of Islam and the committee felt its primary purpose was to cleanse by consensus the Musharraf-era distortions in the constitution, a deal was made.
Maulana got to keep anything that referenced Islam in the constitution and in return he promised to back all the other changes, giving the 18th Amendment unanimous parliamentary cover.
In Article 62, the only bit Zia introduced that was expunged by the 18th Amendment: “has not been convicted for a crime involving moral turpitude or for giving false evidence”.
Everything else in 62, from sub-sections (d) to (g), the grand Islamic clauses being used to harass and disqualify candidates at present, were left untouched.
As you sow, or refuse to root out, so shall you reap.
Back in Jhelum, Raja Afzal is free to contest the elections.
In 2002, he had no degree but he did have two sons. So he got them elected in 2002 and 2008 and now that the degree requirement is gone, he intends to once again stand himself.
By all accounts, neither Afzal’s sons, the degree-holding MNAs, nor Afzal are what anyone could consider upright and upstanding citizens. The stories are legion, the allegations incredible and the proof manifold.
If Afzal had stood and won in 2002 and 2008, he probably would have no shot at winning again — because voters eventually catch on to their representatives and their misdeeds.
But now Afzal, a septuagenarian, can go to his voters and say, “Forgive what my sons have done. I’m an old man, I’ve served you well for decades, this could be last election, please vote for me.”
And Afzal could win.
As for the liars and cheats and crooks in parliament the last five years with their fake degrees and violations of sundry Islamic constitutional provisions?
They have no such fig leaf to hide behind when they face voters on May 11. But many won’t get to face the voters because 62/63 were left untouched.
Vive la démocratie.
The writer is a member of staff.