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Political parties value process of scrutiny

April 08, 2013

The Election Commission of Pakistan.—File Photo

KARACHI: While returning officers have drawn ire of public for testing candidates’ knowledge of Islam and asking questions about their private lives, major political parties have appreciated the overall process of evaluating candidates’ assets, tax returns, academic qualifications, etc as the phase of scrutiny ended on Sunday.

Although the scrutiny was very tough and thorough and candidates faced problems in filling in the newly designed nomination forms, leaders of three major parties in the city believed that there should be some process to filter out candidates who may not be fit to represent people in the parliament.

Background interviews with some candidates, who had filed their nomination papers for the national and provincial assembly seats in Karachi, suggested that not all ROs had asked questions about religion or their personal life, but every candidate had to go through a thorough scrutiny of documents attached with their nomination forms.

Many candidates had to clear electricity, gas, water dues outstanding against them for quite long to avoid disqualification. Only on Sunday, the last date of scrutiny process, nomination papers of five candidates were rejected for failing to clear their outstanding utility bills.

A number of candidates also filed their tax returns for three years on the last day of scrutiny so that the returning offices accept their nomination papers.

A candidate told Dawn that he appeared before an RO who did not ask any ‘irrelevant’ question during the scrutiny process. “She went through my degrees and tax papers and asked me to produce a tenancy agreement showing that I am living in a rented house. I did not have that and she gave me time…I have filed it now and she has cleared my papers.”

He said that the RO, however, came down hard on another candidate who told her that he did nothing to earn his livelihood. “She asked him as to how you raise your kids when you earn no money. When he gave no satisfactory reply, she rejected his papers.”

Another candidate said that he was asked as to how he made four trips in one year to Dubai when he had not mention any plausible source of income in his nomination form. “When I told him that my family bore all expenses and they are supporting me, the RO remarked sarcastically that then I should have asked my family to contest the elections.”

One more candidate belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement said that the ROs were overburdened with workload and may be this was the reason that some of the ROs had mistreated some candidates. “I was waiting for my turn and a candidate was appearing before a returning officer, who took strong note of his casual style and asked him to take out his hand from the trouser pocket. However, the RO did not ask me any irrelevant question or other candidates.”

Dawn spoke to leaders of the three major political parties in the city — the PPP, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Jamaat-i-Islami — and found their views very much similar. They all appreciated the overall scrutiny process with the exception of ‘irrelevant’ questions.

PPP leader Waqar Mehdi was of the opinion that minus testing Islamic knowledge and grilling about personal lives, the overall scrutiny process was fine. “Candidates should declare their assets, pay utility bills, file tax returns and attach genuine degrees, if any, because everyone wants honest and truthful people and not liar or defaulters in parliament.”

He said Articles 62 and 63 were part of the constitution and ROs had every right to ask any question within the parameters of the constitution.

MQM leader Wasay Jalil said that overall it was a good process, as there should be some mechanism to filter out the candidates who did not fulfil constitutional and legal requirements. “Altaf Bhai has asked for an extension in polls date, because he supports the scrutiny process and believed that a through scrutiny will not be possible within such a short time,” he explained.

He, however, said that the MQM’s stance on ROs testing candidates’ Islamic knowledge and asking questions about their private lives was very clear. He said they should not have asked questions that were not in conformity with the relevant laws and the constitution.

JI leader Mohammad Hussain Mehanti said that by and large the overall scrutiny process was fine. “Although the new form was so complicated that it was very difficult to fill in, the process should go on, as the nation has a right to know about assets of candidates, whether they pay taxes and utility bills or not.”