Pakistanis are vocally protesting the trend of over-zealous Returning Officers knocking down prospective electoral candidates like nine pins on “moral” and “religious” grounds related to Articles 62 and 63 inserted into the Constitution of Pakistan by the military dictator Gen. Ziaul Haq. Recently, former MNA and prominent newspaper columnist Ayaz Amir’s candidacy was rejected on the grounds that he has written articles opposing the ‘two nation theory’ and the ‘ideology of Pakistan’. (Here’s an online petition in his support that I have signed). Here’s the HRCP statement slamming “this latest plot to deny people the right to determine who governs them”; Khushal Khattak’s blogpost on “the kind of pre-poll rigging that ANP faces”; The devious Article 62: How pandering to the extremists made it stay, by Aziz-ud-Din Ahmad. Below, prominent citizens statement against the “unethical and undemocratic” electoral process that is allowing the “ignorance and personal prejudices of the Returning Officers” to rule.
Concerned citizens in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, including writers, poets, artists, journalists, public policy experts, political activists and human rights defenders, in a joint statement have expressed their apprehension on the current electoral process being undertaken by the Election Commission of Pakistan and unnecessarily led by the superior judiciary. This process is not only unethical and undemocratic it is also unprecedented in the electoral history of the country. The statement raised objections to the manner in which the candidates are being questioned about their private lives. This reflects a combination of ignorance and personal prejudices of the Returning Officers in question.
The statement further endorsed the findings and recommendations of the 2012 annual report on status of human rights in Pakistan, released by HRCP, particularly the encroachment of judiciary on the legislative sovereignty of the parliament and the executive authority of the government. This, according to them, is in complete contradiction of established international values of democracy and people’s representation. They reiterated that parliament is the only institution representing the will and aspiration of the people.
The citizens particularly criticised the rejection of the nomination papers of Ayaz Amir on the basis of his newspaper columns, which is a gross violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens and their representatives. There are clauses within Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution related to a person’s faith and religious practices which create a lot of confusion and provide room for manipulation by undemocratic forces. These cannot be translated into legal and tangible questions to be posed to the candidates. Besides, the term ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ is interpreted differently by different people. It was first introduced officially under Gen Yahya’s martial rule. Gen Zia’s regime used it to castigate political opponents. The citizens asked why Quaid-i-Azam’s first speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11 August 1947 may not become the preamble to the Constitution.
The signatories of the statement include Ashfaq Saleem Mirza, Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, Nasir Zaidi, Fayyaz Baqir, Harris Khalique, Mazhar Arif, Syed Arshad Rizvi, Dr Tanweer Ahmed, Zafar Zaidi, Dr Hafeezur Rehman Chaudhry, Ashraf Kakar, Zamarud Tanweer, Nasreen Azhar, Ali Akbar Natiq, Rehana Hashmi, Farooq Sulehria, Shabana Arif, Naeem Mirza, Dr Arif Azad, Dr. Hassan Nasir, Marvi Sirmed, Zahra Arshad, Shabana Zafar, Hamra Khalique, Amir Shah, Sirmed Manzoor, Zafarullah Khan, Raza Rumi, Romana Bashir, Adam Malik, Bilal Naqeeb, Kishwar Sultana, Asif Rana, Farman Ali, Muhammad Arif, Faisal Buzdar, Ismail Khan, Lala Hassan Pathan, Abdullah Dayo, Zeeshan Noel Christopher, Malik Shahbaz and Zohair Zaidi