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The real sin


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“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.

Twitter: @cyalm

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (19) Closed

ahmed41 Apr 07, 2013 04:32am
62/63 sounds like theocracy in action
Feroz Apr 07, 2013 04:49am
As you sow so shall you reap. Unless Political parties show spine and are willing to sacrifice their government and lose Power for the right cause, they will never ever succeed in winning the confidence of voters.
Parvez Apr 07, 2013 10:23am
Clear, crisp and truthful...................brilliant. The yellow streak running down the spines of both our leaders who play misical chairs every eight years or so, has been clearly indentfied by the religious right and they are exploiting it fully.
Gerry D'Cunha Apr 07, 2013 10:27am
for fair and free elections under 62-63, both PML(N) and PPP do not qualify to stand for the election
Ahmad Saleem Akhtar Apr 07, 2013 11:40am
II would like to remind the writer, there are many western secular democracies where the head of the state has to be a christian- not neccessarily a practising one, but a christian nevertheless. If my memory serves me right, USA is one of them. Then there is the example of European Union not admitting Turkey into the christian club, because it happens to be a muslim majority country, even though a secular one. And was Pakistan not conceived as a result of two nation ideology argument?
khanm Apr 07, 2013 12:42pm
My good old buddy Abraham Lincoln said ..... "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts." And I am a firm believer that in spite of telling the truth and facts, we will still bring the same old people back in power.... It will prove one thing and one thing only. That the corruption have won and justice have failed
Mansoor Apr 07, 2013 01:20pm
What type of democracy are we developing. With less than 1 % of our population holding a graduate degree we disqualified 99 % from contesting election. Every election adds another zero at the end of the total cost to contest, now in hundreds of millions, disqualifying 99% of graduates. Votes are being bought and sold and whoever wins has a multitude of financiers who are investing to be rewarded handsomely. Unless 2 parties participate in elections with party manifestos, previous achievements and only party funding which is audited the democracy experiment is bound to fail. Only 2000 odd people can contest the election and we have to choose from that lot. Democracy is weakened by 100's of parties with horse trading at the end as every MNA is in the government with Awam the only. opposition. Give a thought to who benefits from this type of democracy and who has created more parties and factions.
babar Apr 07, 2013 05:23pm
I shall never vote in any Pakistani election untill and unless 62-63is replaced by good governance as a criteria. 62-63 is for the cheating,lying,maurading, sexual pervert Islaimc fanatics. They can all go to hell!!! Pkaistan will never improve as ong as we these theieves running the country!!!
I. Ahmed Apr 07, 2013 08:00pm
The article highlighted bigger issue. Our assemblies have been approving constitutional changes without anyone reading them!!! Cut and paste!! Parliament
illawarrior Apr 08, 2013 01:16am
Australia's head of state is an atheist
Bakhtawer BIlal Apr 08, 2013 02:56am
The very word secular means that religion will not have to do anything with the affairs of state. As for USA, you may have doubts but I am know for sure that religion has nothing to do with the qualification of a candidate. People may have their preferences, but law does not bar anyone based on the religion.
Bakhtawer BIlal Apr 08, 2013 02:58am
seems like you have doubt!
Mueed P Apr 08, 2013 03:19am
Article Two, Section 1, Clause 5 of the US Constitution says otherwise. No elected head of state of any Western democracy has to be a Christian, practicing or otherwise - not in a constitutional sense. That the EU has not admitted Turkey demonstrates that the EU is, arguably, bigoted. It's unclear to me why Pakistan's constitution should aim to be the same. The Two Nation Theory posited that Muslims and Hindus are two nations, It is a far cry to argue that just because Muslims are a nation that they could not as a nation democratically elect a non-Muslim to be the head of state. In any event, the Prime Minister is not the head of state - the President is.
Binod Apr 08, 2013 06:07am
rampant disqualification of candidates?? is this poll rigging or some sort of selection before election? what a democracy????????
Abdullah Apr 08, 2013 07:40am
Asking for a non Muslim PM in pakistan is like asking for a communist Stalin in Capitalist Britain or viceversa
Zimbo_Indian Apr 08, 2013 01:34pm
India is a democracy. We have had non-Hindus as both Prime Ministers (Manmohan Singh) and Presidents (Zakir Hussain. FA Ahmed, Zail Singh, APJ Abdul Kalam). Even today the Super PM is Mrs Sonia Gandhi (Christian). The political clout of Muslims in India is out of proportion to their share in population. Unfortunately, Muslims have not been able to produce leaders who will ensure the well being of Muslims. Instead they just appeal to the communal tendencies of Muslims and create problems for one and all. (There are some similar Hindu leaders also but they are generally marginalised in the community).
hyderphd74 Apr 08, 2013 05:02pm
Are you a contestant? If so, and you need a degree you can buy one. Sir, there has got to be some criteria. We have already been governed by the "angutha marka" politicians. Now let some educated people who can think rationally and act appropriately get chance. An idea that would definitely save Pakistan is to lay down a condition that any person who has ever delivered a religious sermon is disqualified. That will change Pakistan for ever and for the better. This will get rid of these self-proclaimed Mullahs of the sort of MFR etc. once and for all.
hyderphd74 Apr 08, 2013 05:18pm
I am not sure you are right about America. When Jimmy Carter was contesting for Democratic Party nomination, there was a very well known, and almost a front runner, Senator (from Washington State) who was of Jewish faith. Though he could not win the nomination, but that was not due to his faith. There were lots of rumor floating around for Barrack Obama as being a Muslim, but his nomination and later his contesting was never challenged on the grounds of his faith. All the 'right' wingers tried their utmost to get him disqualified when they could not beat him in the polls but no one raised the faith factor. Moreover, American constitution separates Church and State.
hyderphd74 Apr 08, 2013 05:26pm
We can not elect a Non-Muslim as head of state or head of the government because we are Muslims and by definition "we are superior to every non Muslim ever born"! (let me clarify, this is said sarcastically). Explain to me how we can be ruled by some one who is inferior to us.?