There is only a month left to the general elections and things are not just moving forward, they are hurtling forward at breakneck speed. As many institutions stay open day and night to weed out incorrect information from the documents of those trying to slip into Parliament, it is becoming an increasingly challenging exercise.

While the electorate is by and large enjoying the fact that many stalwarts of yore are falling by the wayside for different reasons, they have also been extremely alarmed at the expose of the kind of queries being made by the returning officers of the prospective candidates. It is like a very rude awakening to the realities in place.

One does not know what to get more upset about - the average level of contestants, some of whom sounded like jokes related by stand-up comedians, or the smug questions by the returning officers who did not appear to have a clue about what was an acceptable standard of questions. In fact, they seemed to epitomise the saying in Urdu “Allah ganjon ko naakhun na dai!”

That we have people at that position of responsibility in our judicial system speaks volumes for their levels of understanding and education.

It is, indeed, a hair-raising thought that they have to decide cases and award punishments relying on their own intellectual capacities - which have been revealed to be non-existent mostly, as we have all seen.

Innocuous clauses that have been sitting quietly in the constitution, added by Ziaul Haq, are now rising up to bite everyone in the backside.

The interpretation and determination of some of the sub clauses cannot be managed judicially because they demand that the candidates have an ‘adequate’ knowledge of Islamic teachings.

The term ‘adequate’ is open to many interpretations. The Parliament, with all the leisurely five years at its disposal, chose not to discuss, remove or change them.

The fluent recitation of some verses of the Holy Quran may prove that the candidate has a good memory, but in no way makes him or her best candidate or even the best person.

Going by the standards of the returning officers, even some of our most respected leaders of the past and famous thinkers would fail the test.

The whole idea of scrutinising the candidate for corrupt or criminal practices seems to have been abandoned and replaced by instant Islamiyat tests.

While film actress Meera seems to have measured up, well known columnist and ex-parliamentarian Ayaz Amir has flunked. He was held accountable for not upholding the Ideology of Pakistan in one of his columns by the returning officer.

He is appealing against the verdict today, but this is what has happened to one of the most widely read and admired columnists in the country, across the board and has shocked people into reaction.

Even though the idea of Pakistan, undoubtedly, was that the Muslims would have a separate and independent homeland where they would be able to practice their faith and traditions freely, it did not intend to take on the responsibility of making Muslims better Muslims or more pious than they were.

If a person who took charge of the government by default and proceeded to introduce all these injunctions to befuddle the simple and uneducated people of this country and to prolong his hold on power, it really is time to stand up and debate on them. And all the more because Babar Awan is seen to be defending them staunchly.

The Election Commission of Pakistan has introduced the idea of a blank slot in the voting slip. This is for the voters to mark if they did not think any of the candidates in their constituency was worth voting for.

The idea being that any constituency with 51 percent ticks in the ‘none of the above’ (‘NOTA’) column will automatically become a reason to nullify the results and call for a fresh election with new candidates. This line of reasoning is good, but is not really applicable to us yet.

We, in Pakistan, are still trying very hard to get all those who are registered voters to make the effort of coming out on election day, stand in line for however long it takes, and to cast their vote. We are hoping that these elections will reveal a higher percentage of votes cast as compared to previous years.

When it is difficult to even get all the voters out, why would those who do not like any of the candidates bother with queuing to mark the blank column. The ‘NOTA’ column idea is far too ahead of its time in Pakistan as yet.

Both the returning officers’ questions and the ‘NOTA’ slot have been arrested apparently by those in control of the elections, but this has revealed that nothing is fully thought through and that brains are not engaged before putting mouths in gear!

Postscript: The interim Chief Minister of Punjab is trying to get everyone to agree to celebrate the kite-flying festival of Basant in these balmy spring mornings. I hope he can make it happen. The deadly practice of glassed wire needs to be monitored strictly, but the joyous event should not be banned so arbitrarily. We have been left with far too few opportunities to be happy collectively and should not be deprived of every last modicum of happiness. I wonder if our right to being happy and freedom of expression, as enshrined in the constitution too, will also get the same importance at some point in time as the sub clauses of Articles 62 and 63 are doing currently.

The writer is a public relations and event management professional based in Islamabad. Email: Twitter: @tallatazim.