Dark shadows

The shadow of the military still darkens the electoral process.

Nadir Hassan April 04, 2013
The writer is a Karachi-based journalist who has previously worked at The Express Tribune and Newsline

As has been mentioned ad nauseum, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, a democratically-elected government has served out its term and will peacefully (hopefully!) be replaced by another government chosen through the ballot box. This statement is technically true and certainly calls for a short moment of reflection, but the achievement should be considered a springboard, not a triumph in and of itself. No matter how badly we may wish to avert our eyes, reality keeps staring us in the face. Our democracy is still contaminated by the remnants of decades of military rule.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the insertion of amendments to Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution through a presidential ordinance by General Ziaul Haq. In his pious religiosity, General Zia decided that simply meeting minimum age and citizenship requirements was not enough in order to qualify to stand for parliament. He decreed that all aspirants to elected office must demonstrate adequate knowledge of religious teachings, practice all obligatory religious duties and be “sagacious, righteous and non-profilgate and honest and ameen”. If there is a single citizen of the country, forget our parliamentarians, who fits the bill, I have yet to come across him or her.

General Zia, of course, did not state who would stand and judge his fellow-beings’ righteousness but now the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has decided to take up his mantle. Prospective candidates were asked to recite Quranic verses as a qualification for office, this apparently being enough to decide if someone is a good enough Muslim to be allowed in the sanctity of parliament. The ECP may want to peruse the Munir Report which, let alone sifting through people to identify good Muslims, found that clerics could not even agree on how to define a Muslim.

General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, too, is making his presence felt, although his literal presence in the country is a mere distraction. The dictator, who like all military men had nothing but disdain for the political class, decided that he wanted to get himself new politicians. He did so by adding a graduate requirement to stand for election to the National Assembly. We didn’t get many new politicians but we did get many new university degrees. That anti-democratic requirement, which disqualified pretty much the entire country from standing for national office, has been rightfully abandoned but it is still making its presence felt through the ECP, which is disqualifying candidates who submitted fake degrees in the past, and the courts, who are jailing the same people.

Certainly, in both of these cases, the politicians have to share a lot of the blame. While debating and passing the Eighteenth Amendment, parliament should, as a matter of principle, have removed each and every contamination introduced by military dictators, including the additions to Articles 62 and 63. It is also very hard to feel any sympathy for politicians who are guilty of perjury and, in many cases, forgery. The point is not to absolve the political class of any blame; it is to point out how the shadow of the military still darkens the electoral process.

It is an irony of democracy in Pakistan that the biggest threat to the holding of free and fair elections will be the very institution tasked with safeguarding the electoral process. There is every chance that security at the polls will be handled by military and paramilitary forces, rather than regular police. There are those who will argue that only the military is capable of providing security which, if it is true, is only because the military has ensured that its influence remains paramount in every nook and cranny of the country.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2013.


S K Afridi | 8 years ago | Reply

@sabi: You are absolutely right, only Allah Taala alone knows who is sadiq and amin but in our capacity as the people responsible for clearing the future custodians of our national resources we must do whatever is humanly possible to screen out those who are so obviously neither sadiq nor amin. More over when an individual decides to be a public figure then his private life becomes the public property. The voters then have every right to question their conduct in their private life.This is a normal practice in every democratic country. Even in extremely liberal western countries the leaders are not spared for their misconduct. Berlisconi, the ex Italian Prime Minster is still facing the music. If you recall Bill Clinton had to go through the impeachment process as a sitting President only because of his misconduct in private life. South Korean President and Japanese Prime Ministers had to face the law for their misdeeds. In Pakistan every corrupt individual has been making to the corridors of power by exploiting the loop holes in the electoral system. Once such individuals get elected the they wield so much influence over the system that it literally becomes impossible to get rid of them. Our President Zardari is a glaring example of Systems failure. Now the same very system provides him immunity and he himself will never have the requisite moral strength to quit the office and face the corruption charges.

Gp65 | 8 years ago | Reply

I agree 18th amendment was that opportunity. Not just 62. 63 but the modifications to the British era blasphemy law made by Zia, the changes to the rape law, the law declaring Ahmadis non-Muslim could have been reversed. But the fact is the legislators did not dare to do so because they knew they did not have the popular mandate to do so. as such if those laws are still on the books, it is because the people still want them to be there.

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