The integrity and capacity of public representatives determine the state and quality of democratic dispensation in any country. In order to ensure an efficient legislative regime in the country, Articles 62 and 63 have been included in the Constitution of Pakistan. However, instead of positively contributing anything to the political discourse, these provisions have been instrumental in giving rise to much controversy. Recently, over an alleged misstatement made by PM Nawaz Sharif on the floor of the National Assembly on August 29, a petition seeking his disqualification has been filed in the Supreme Court. The CJP has also constituted a larger bench of the SC to hear this petition. Some months ago, Arslan Iftikhar announced to file a reference against PTI’s chief Imran Khan in the ECP for allegedly violating Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution. Likewise, during last year’s general elections, various RO’s have been making a mockery of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution by arbitrarily interpreting and applying these provisions.

At present, qualifications required to be a legislator in any country are simple and almost uniform all over the world. In this regard, there is a universal rule of general qualifications; that the individual be an adult and sane citizen of the country in which he intends to be a public representative. So, only minors, those of unsound mind, non-residents and alien persons are prevented from holding office. This rule is observed all over the world including democratic countries like the US, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Japan and India. The original 1973 Constitution of Pakistan also prescribed almost similar qualifications to be a parliamentarian. But later, as part of the so-called process of Islamization, Articles 62 and 63 were added to the Constitution by a ‘Sadiq and Ameen’ known for artfully extending his promised 90 day rule to 11 years of a despotic regime.  

In the form of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, there exist some exhaustive and extensive pre-conditions for qualifying to be a Member of Parliament. For this, a candidate has firstly to confirm to the Islamic and national ideology of the country. Besides being honest and Ameen, he should practice obligatory duties prescribed by Islam and must abstain from major sins. Likewise, dual nationality, insolvency, previous conviction, loan-default and non-payment of utility bills can also be grounds for disqualification of individuals to contest elections in Pakistan.

Analyzing together the recognized democratic ideals and Pakistan’s political culture, there are certain shortcomings and contradictions in the entire set of qualifications and disqualifications provided under the Constitution. In fact, there is no known procedure or mechanism for the ‘introspection’ of the candidates before labelling them good or bad Pakistanis or Muslims. Performance or non-performance of religious obligations is primarily a personal affair of individuals which hardly involves public life. The Pakistan Citizenship Act, 1951, recognizes the right of dual citizenship as a matter of state policy. Therefore, after recognizing a right, there is no justification for any kind of discrimination against anyone. A person once convicted by a competent court is considered to be innocent having undergone his punishment. So, barring a previous convict from contesting elections is against the principles of Natural Justice. Likewise, loan-defaulters and tax-evaders should be apprehended and dealt with according to the law of the land, instead of raising these objections at the time of the filling of nomination papers.

After the successful 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, the revolutionary leadership introduced certain constitutional reforms in the country. To keep the Islamic spirit alive, certain stringent qualifications for becoming a legislator were enforced in the Islamic republic. The constitutionally mandated Guardian Council thoroughly scrutinizes all individual candidates before allowing them to contest the election to become members of the Majlis (Iranian Parliament). This Guardian Council is composed of twelve learned jurists and Faqihs (expert clerics). Ironically, naive RO’s are generally deputed to scrutinize the credentials of the candidates during the general elections in Pakistan. Before following the Iran model, we must keep in mind that Iranian society has undergone a significant socio-political metamorphosis after the Islamic revolution. On the other hand, we have been politically adhering to the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy in Pakistan which hardly has any space for such theological ideals.  

The growing relevance of the political parties has significantly minimized the importance of individual candidates in the entire electoral process in any country. Generally, people vote for a particular political party without knowing the personal conduct and character of individual contesters.  Therefore, it is the mandatory duty of every political party to thoroughly scrutinize and evaluate the credentials of each candidate before awarding them a party ticket to contest elections under their umbrella. Political parties can certainly ensure the participation of honest and competent individuals in politics through certain effective institutional arrangements.

Democracy is a political system that necessarily believes in the unique potential and capabilities of ordinary people. People are considered to be the ultimate arbitrators in this system. Therefore, instead of judging individuals on the touchstone of Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution, the matter should be left to electors with whom sovereignty rests. The integrity and honesty of public representatives is no doubt desirable, but the same should be ensured by the promotion of a healthy political culture and the establishment of the rule of law in the polity. The smooth functioning of western democracies has substantiated this very fact.

The writer is a lawyer. He can be contacted at mohsinraza.malik@ymail.com. Follow him on Twitter