The issue of dual-national representation has gathered a lot of importance; not only because it is supported by the PPP and its ally MQM, but also the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has decided to take this matter seriously for the upcoming elections.

Under Article 63 (1) (c) of the Constitution, a person is not eligible to become a member of Parliament or a Provincial Assembly if he or she possesses any foreign nationality. Followed by Section 99 (1A) (c) of the Representation of the People Act, 1976, observes that the law disqualifies such people from being elected, or chosen as, and from being a member of Parliament, if “he ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state.” The ECP is not willing to change its stance according to their rules of procedure, unless the government brings a bill in Parliament for amendments. The ECP Chief Election Commissioner, Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim, has himself said: “The country does not need half-Pakistanis as representatives.”

The political parties have not been able to articulate the function of dual nationals in the Pakistani parliamentary system. According to ECP rules, a dual national can vote in the general elections, but cannot run for election in Pakistan. An important case of overseas Pakistani’s is very imperative in the upcoming elections. If the ECP allows voting for overseas Pakistanis; only the dual nationals and temporary Pakistani residents will be able to vote. In the absence of any state-of-the-art electoral machine; one cannot guarantee the pure results in the overseas, as it is likely to be conducted by the Embassy or Consulate staff as the ECP’s induction of new employees for this purpose in this point in time will be very difficult.

Now as for dual national representatives in Parliament and Assemblies; how can the people of Pakistan guarantee pure commitment from the dual national when he or she has to strike a balance between the two countries? For example, the US oath asks its citizens to put its national interests before anything. Wouldn’t the dual nationals be caught up between the foreign policy of the two countries? Will their vote in Parliament or Assembly be an actual representation of the will of Pakistan? These are some very important questions and concerns, which a general voter thinks about now.

A paper by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) on Dual Nationality for Public Representatives, has compared the role of dual nationals in neighbouring and European countries. In case of India, the Constitution bars dual nationals from contesting the elections. In UK, they are eligible to contest elections, provided they are not a member of the legislature of any other country and fulfil other criteria. The anti-dual nationalist rule is also found in Australia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and China. In some cases, the dual nationals are restricted from holding most public offices.

In terms of development, no significant or special role of a dual national has been seen in Pakistan. In fact, it raises a question of their presence in Parliament when the incidents like the Salala checkpost or drone attacks are in the limelight. The question of accountability of dual nationals is also of high importance, as different set of laws are applicable on them.

We have seen the example of former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz, who is not fit to be held accountable for his political deeds because of his dual nationality. Hence, the case of dual national representation in Parliament is very sensitive. In Pakistan, where a mindset of blaming other nations on its own fault prevails; the dual nationals’ existence in the democratic and governance system of Pakistan is not justified.

Parliament should debate on this topic and see what contribution dual nationals can play in the development of Pakistan, if granted. Can Parliament have special seats for dual nationals? The question remains strange as they do not perform any additional or special task in our society; like the women seats or the minority seats. The representation of dual nationals is going to be quite a challenge for the ECP. The dual nationals will have a role in the next elections only if the ECP allows them. Its decision on this issue will have a very strong impact on its position, independence and existence in the upcoming elections.

The writer is project manager, Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT).Email: jawdat.bilal@pildat.org