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A NEW issue has cropped up in the media with reports quoting unnamed Election Commission of Pakistan officials as saying that candidates will not be allowed to use religion or sectarianism in a bid to attract voters for next month’s general elections. Parties and individuals will not be allowed to campaign against anyone on the basis of religion, ethnicity or caste etc while speeches containing sectarian or communal content will be disallowed. All these points are already present in the elections’ code of conduct and the ECP has clarified that no new code has been issued. Yet further explanation from the commission is in order as the news reports have posed a new set of questions.

Numerous parties with a declared Islamist ideology and with varying degrees of influence are running in the polls. If the code suggests that all religion-based parties cannot contest, then why were such parties registered in the first place? And if the code is meant to keep hate mongers at bay how can it be enforced, even if in principle it is a commendable goal? After all, some religious parties belonging to the hard right have formed an alliance, which includes groups that are supposedly banned, while groups campaigning on an ethnic platform are also contesting. Do such groups fall foul of the code or not? Returning officers have been mandated with enforcing the code of conduct, but is the mechanism in place to allow strict adherence to the code in this regard as well as in other aspects? Here it should be pointed out that there is a difference between campaigning on an agenda of hate and using religious symbols in political discourse or claiming to represent oppressed communities. The problem starts when groups or individuals resort to demagoguery or hate speech to win influence and unfortunately, we have seen no shortage of such politics in Pakistan.

We feel the debate about faith-based politics should be left to the next parliament, where the question of allowing or disallowing the mixture of politics and religion can be discussed. In the meantime, the ECP needs to spell out exactly what the restrictions in the above-mentioned clauses of the code of conduct refer to before an open-ended debate ensues about the role of religion in politics, Islamic ideology and the ideology of Pakistan. Perhaps the more immediate matter at hand is coming up with an effective method to monitor the campaigns for hate speech so that candidates don’t exploit communal differences to gain a few votes.

Comments (19) Closed

khanm Apr 16, 2013 05:10am
The code of conduct should be based on our divine laws. the absolute laws of Quran and sunna.... after 65 years we are still debating. Can we decide for God sake what we really want. are we always going to be a lost nation....
Tajmeer Apr 16, 2013 07:18am
Why we need to define code of conduct? We are Muslims and Pakistan is an Islamic country but still we dont know that Islam is a complete code of life. All aspects of life has been discussed in the teachings of Muhammad(SAW). We need to follow those teachings and prepare our codes so we will be effective.
M K Sufi Apr 16, 2013 07:37am
What is wrong in following the Quran for our day to day living. We should see and understand Quran in the context of present. We mix culture with religion. How does it effects a person, if he/she follow the Quranic Laws. For wrong doing there is punishment under every law. The problem is that we do not want to be restricted and want to lead a life as we feel it should be. Under no law corruption, nepotism is allowed. There is a code of dress in every society. People in the Middle East wear Long dress, we where shalwar/ Kamiz. Christians go Church dressed up in their Sunday Best dress. We go the masjid for prayers in casually or slept in dress. Shoes are thrown all around the entrance to the Masjid. Mobile phones are not switched off, cars are double parked, the place of wadhu, the water is spashed all over. I have seen a person slipping and hurting himself.Come late and jump over the others to reach the first row. Islam teaches dicipline. UAE, Eygpt, Turkey are Muslim countries, they are not restrictive. The saints who came to Indo-subcontinent preached Islam are reverened by the Hindus, Sikhs, Parsees as the Muslim do.
zeerak Apr 16, 2013 07:41am
what a cliched self-righteous statement, Mr Khan. The problem lies not with the Creator or any religion or any scripture. But with the way they are abused and manipulated but those in the clergy who have monopoly over them: in Pakistan's case the extreme religious right who make a living out of spreading hatred and chaos in the name of God, Quran and the Prophet. Let us for God's sake keep religion and politics aside. Enough with the violence in the name of Allah.
Nabarun Dey Apr 16, 2013 08:04am
Kudos to DAWN for this timely, incisive editorial. ECP themselves may be blamed for faltering by seeking marriage certificate of a high profile candidate like the former external affairs minister Ms Hina Rabbani Khar. While they ensured through quizzing various others that the contestants are committed to Islam above all, there is very little scope to grow banana from a mango tree.
K G Surendran Apr 16, 2013 08:57am
Keeping religion out out of politics is the right step in a democracy because any religion is open to a number of interpretations which then is the cause of conflict.
S Mubarak Apr 16, 2013 09:03am
using religion as a political tool is the easiest way to do the politics without puting an effort to prove yourself and is usually adopted by the nations who are economically and socially down and left no choice for their politics.
Agha Ata (USA) Apr 16, 2013 01:18pm
The only good sign that is visible now is the fact that now we can at least discuss, if religion is not needed in politics; this, I suppose, is the first step towards SECULARISM. Media can help a lot; there should be more articles and debates on the issue. Maybe some mullahs are invited on TV channels to chat with journalists.
naseer nasar Apr 16, 2013 03:39pm
if its true that there is an idealogy of pakistan then we can not think of keeping religion and politics aside.
Julie C Apr 16, 2013 04:00pm
In the US, separation of state and church is enshrined in the constitution, yet the back of dollar bills are inscribed with 'In God We Trust'. No wonder, they are at the top of the world!
Bixin Apr 16, 2013 04:15pm
M.K Sufi do u really follow Quran? U say Shoes are thrown all around the entrance to the Masjid How can u forget bombs? why u remember Shoes? U r bothered by Mobile phones which are not switched off How come you r not bothered by siren of ambulance taking bodies to hospitals? U say U have seen a person slipping and hurting himself.Come late and jump over the others to reach the first row. Did u not see Muslim suicide bombers killing Muslims?
Leo Apr 16, 2013 05:08pm
But then this is exactly the way Pakistan had its origin!!! Isn't it? (even though I have voted up your comment; coz' I believe in what you said...)
anwar Apr 16, 2013 05:25pm
If this state will ever have to survive and thrive as part of the civilized nations it will have to systematically initiate a final break up with the gravity of religion. You can not under any circumstances disenfranchise a large portions of your people in the name of faith and dream of ever achieving long lasting prosperity. Its' not just a matter of religious parties alone dividing this nation, it is the state itself that has voluntarily let itself fall into the abyss of obscurantism. Someone in the election commission did say political parties will not be allowed to solicit votes in the name of religion or sect, but don?t forget this statement was immediately retracted.
NL Apr 16, 2013 05:38pm
I do not agree mullahs should even be invited for the political issues as they are mostly unaware of the modern era of politics; their knowledge is only up to spreading conservatism, as this is their only tool to provoke people. They should be discussed only regarding where to build masjid and teaching of religion in non provocative manner. No offence pls.
Nero Apr 16, 2013 07:06pm
Too late! How can you stop invocation of Islam in a country carved out in the name Islam? Once you are allowed to invoke Islam, how can you stop people from using other identities (ethnicity, language, region etc,)?
beg Apr 16, 2013 08:30pm
zeerak is not so discreet in the understanding the teachings of mohammad(pbuh) who never seperated politics from islam.He himself was imam of masjide nabvi and leader of the muslims and governer of all mundane affairs of the muslim kindly dont think of islam as other religions which dont have detailed laws regarding governance of a state and hence christianity failed in europe to govern state affairs and thus west adopted the idea of seperation of church and state because altered form of christianity(man made) was unable to cope with changing europe and basic tenets of clergy made christianity were not holding to new principles of sciencethus they seperated the church and state and science but islam is scientific to the core and holds well to any era and any society thus there is no such thing in islam to seperate mosque and state,quran and state,however this is true that sectarian parties have misused name of islam but so are the parties based on language and ethinicity therefore both kinds should be banned as they both are against mohammads teachings
Mother Apr 17, 2013 12:18am
Disagree with you Mr Editor. Kudos to ECP for making this rule. its the first step. At least we are talking about keeping religion out of politics. Religion has destroyed Pakistan, Its time we took our country back.
Obygn Apr 17, 2013 12:37am
I cannot blame any of these commentators for their views. when someone doesn't know any better, they believe that what they know is the only truth and some of them try to impose their narrow views on others and that is dangerous!! Western culture dominates the world not because they force them on others, but because of the practicality, usefulness and also they are result oriented. Myths and superstitious believes will never change the reality.
Fazal Karim Apr 17, 2013 03:41am
Election Commission has gone out of senses. Why ask and expect things which are impracticable. There is religion every where, in constitution, in courts(Shariat Bench), in offices(prayers in office time), in Banks(Zakat) and cry for shariat. Adopt a secular policy and secular constitution and confine religion to personaql life. Be in line with the world. What other nations learn in a decay muslims learn in a century.