Sunday, September 30, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Oct 1, 2012

Chickens come home to roost The dual nationality MPs’ saga continues to roll along. The Supreme Court (SC) has issued notices to three MPs to appear before it on October 3. These MPs include MNAs Begum Shehnaz Sheikh and Rai Ghulam Mujtaba Kharral and Senator and Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik. The court is disposed to deal with these MPs in terms of Article 25 read with Article 5 of the Constitution. Article 5 enjoins loyalty to the state and obedience of the constitution and law on every citizen and every other person for the time being in Pakistan. Article 25 lays down that all citizens are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law. On these touchstones, the court is inclined to rule against the MPs who have been proved to hold dual nationality, and knowingly kept this information from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) when filing their nomination papers for the 2008 elections. Unfortunately, the ECP in the past has not properly vetted the nationality status of aspiring candidates, including in the 2008 elections. As a result, it is not known whether the 11 disqualified MPs according to the SC’s September 20, 2012 order, or the three mentioned above, represent the tip of the iceberg of dual nationality MPs. Rehman Malik had stated in a press conference on September 20 and 21, 2012, that if he was asked by the SC or government, he could produce the names of further MPs who enjoyed dual nationality. The SC has therefore asked him to appear to assist the court in this regard. In the meantime, the ECP has sent letters to the secretaries of the two houses of parliament as well as the four provincial assemblies seeking fresh declarations from the legislators affirming that they do not hold dual nationality. The replies have to be submitted within two weeks. The ECP’s view is that it would not be possible for the secretaries to ignore the letter as it had the force of a SC order behind it. This view has been reiterated in the light of the track record. The ECP had earlier written letters on August 29, 2012 to the secretaries of the Senate and National Assembly, provincial assemblies, Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs and Overseas Pakistanis, seeking details within 15 days about legislators holding dual nationality. Both the Senate and National Assembly said there was no provision under the rules of business to obtain such details from MPs. They further said they did not possess such record and advised the ECP to seek such information directly from the MPs themselves. The Balochistan Assembly also said it had no record of dual nationality of its members. The provincial assemblies of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the ministries did not bother to respond to the ECP’s request. Punjab was the only province reported to have started the process of obtaining such details from its assembly members. After the 15 days deadline lapsed on September 13, a full bench of the SC headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in its short order in the dual nationality case had instructed the ECP to examine the cases of MPs individually by obtaining fresh declarations. It is too soon to conclude where this reassessment of the nationality status of our legislators may end up. If only a few are found to be in breach of the constitution and law on candidature while possessing dual nationality, it is conceivable that their seats could be filled through by-elections between now and the general elections. If, however, a large number of such MPs are identified and disqualified, it remains an open question whether large numbers of by-elections could be completed before the general elections kick in. And between now and then, such a development could add pressure on the government not to insist on its wish to see out its term to the full, but instead to opt for earlier elections. As the general elections loom, this and many other issues are steadily narrowing the room for manoeuvre for the government and adding to its concerns regarding holding the fort until at least March 2013.

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