KARACHI - Members of public, civil society, professional bodies and trade unions have expressed strong disapproval to the tactics being used to push the election process in a certain direction.

The forthcoming elections are of crucial importance to the future of the country and no attempt must be made by any quarter to vitiate the atmosphere that can lead to subverting the will of the people.

“We express particular concern over the process of scrutiny of the candidates by the Election Commission, which amounts to Zia-era vigilantism and a disguised return to the ‘accountability before elections’ mantra. This whole exercise smells of mala fide intentions,” said a statement issued here on Thursday.

The statement has been endorsed by IA Rehman – Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Muhammad Tahseen – South Asia Partnership Pakistan, Karamat Ali – Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, Suleman Abro – Sindh Agriculture Forestry Workers Coordination Organization, Naseer Memon – Strengthening Participatory Organisation, Jami Chandio – Centre for Peace and Civil Society, Dr Tipu Sultan – Pakistan Medical Association, Dr Manzoor Awan – Sungi Development Foundation, Samson Salamat - Centre for Human Rights Education, Farhat Parveen and Mir Zulfiqar – NOW Communities, Uzma Noorani – Women’s Action Forum, Zahida Detho - Sindh Rural Partners Organisation (SRPO), Javed Qazi – Forum for Secular Pakistan, Nasir Mansoor – National Trade Unions Federation, Saeed Baloch - Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Dr Kaiser Bengali, Dr AH Nayyar - Pakistan Peace Coalition, BM Kutty, Zulfiqar Halepoto and others.

They contended that the right to choose public representatives in Parliament belongs solely to the people and no agency – Courts, Election Commission, Returning Officers, bureaucrats, etc. – can arrogate this right to themselves by attempting to pre-select candidates on any pretext, leave alone taking recourse to Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitutions. These Articles, as they appear today in the Constitution, are not the ones that were in the original 1973 constitution. These were gerrymandered by the military dictator General Ziaul Haq through the infamous 8th Amendment to perpetuate his dictatorial rule by promoting his own outlandish scheme of Islamisation. Unfortunately, the framers of the 18th Amendment also failed to do away with these incongruities.

It has been our consistent demand that Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution be repealed, as they provide a handle to right-wing religious fanatics and anti-democracy elements in the Establishment to hound the political sections that they oppose, they said. “We reiterate this demand and call for the reinstatement of the original Articles as contained in 1973 constitution.

We also call for the repeal of all provisions introduced into the Constitution by the military dictator General Ziaul Haq, the statement said.

“The said Articles are vaguely worded and open to misuse. In fact, even the Quaid-e-Azam would have failed the test, had these provisions been applied then. It is questionable if the very authors of these clauses and other holders of high office then and now, including members of the judiciary, can pass these bars. Further, what is the locus standi of those who are today sitting in judgment on the candidates’ suitability in terms of Articles 62 and 63 and are they themselves qualified under the said clauses?” they asked.

They condemn the manner in which candidates are quizzed, as if they are schoolboys and schoolgirls. No expert in any subject can be expected to remember the answer to every question in her or his subject when asked randomly. Many of these candidates have held important positions, have national and international standing, and have performed their duties creditably. Many of them have devoted their entire lives to fighting for democracy, rule of law, and the rights of the people. They cannot be insulted as such.

They pointed out that the question of ‘fake’ degrees also needs to be seen in its proper context. The law that required legislators to be graduates was introduced by a military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, with mala fide intentions in order to keep certain politicians out of office. Also, the then dictatorial regime arbitrarily declared Madrassah sanads as equivalent to graduate degrees to enable their reactionary supporters to take control of the parliamentary process. It is worth-mentioning here that no one has bothered to question the validity/authenticity of the so-called ‘sanads’ ‘issued by Madrassahs.

The Election Commission’s campaign of a witch-hunt around Articles 62 and 63, educational qualifications and dual nationality amounts to disqualifying those whom the people consider their true representatives. We cannot allow the ghosts of laws like EBDO, used by the first dictator General Ayub Khan, to claim more victims. The Election Commission’s dictatorial-era tactics appears to be tantamount to paving the way again for Zia-ist elements to control the Parliament.

“We have expressed full confidence in the independence of the Election Commission and we now call upon it to ensure that this public confidence in its fairness is maintained.”

 The Election Commission cannot and should not become a Court and Parliament all rolled into one.

The Election Commission’s mandate is to conduct fair and free elections and it cannot arrogate to itself the additional task of carrying out accountability of candidates. Democracy is all about the right of the people to choose their representatives freely and no barriers, under any pretext, should be erected in their way, the statement concluded.