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Who should contest elections?

Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq

“It is not fit the public trusts should be lodged in the hands of any till they are first proved and found fit for the business they are to be entrusted with”—Matthew (Mathew) Henry

The essence of holding a public office is deeply embedded in one’s ability to display a magnanimous character, a mind that is focused on leading one’s nation towards progress, a heart that beats every second for the love and welfare of the people and the strong conviction to stand upright under any circumstances. Edmund Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France aptly said:

“All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust, and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great Master, Author, and Founder of society.”

The Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 vide Articles 62 and 63 enumerate a number of conditions which a prospective candidate has to fulfill in order to contest elections for the senate, parliament or provincial assemblies. There is a long list of these characteristics that portray the candidates as God-fearing, righteous, loyal, scrupulous, possessing good moral values, ardent follower of Islamic injunctions where applicable, honest, just, trustworthy and not convicted of any crime. Of course, no one is perfect but there are many human beings in this world who do come up to the minimum standards required for holding a public office.

The logic behind these qualities is that those who are eventually elected to hold the reins of government are people of character, integrity and competent. After all, making policies and enacting laws require acumen, vision and sincerity. Laws and policies can only be formulated by such persons who are qualified, possess wisdom, experience, far-sightedness and caliber to see the country’s future, hundred years ahead. They need to have substantial know-how to meticulously lead the nation towards long term economic prosperity and not a momentary boom benefitting a handful of persons. In other words, the most profound trait is ‘compassion’ that is conspicuous by its absence in the Constitution.

Just because a person hails from a prosperous background through which he can pay a good price to reach the corridors of power, does not automatically render him an eligible candidate. Just because a person religiously follows Islamic injunctions, he cannot be assumed as a compassionate human being. Just because a person is articulate in oratory, he may not necessarily be able to deliver. Just because a person has high academic achievements, does not mean he can be practical in his approach. Just because a person is sitting on a senior post, he does not become more knowledgeable or competent than his junior. In short, the role of a leader is enmeshed in a host of responsibilities bound by unshakeable scruples, embellished with utmost sincerity and absolutely open to accountability.

Only an uncompromising, competent, scrupulous person should qualify to contest election for public office. The million dollar question is that how one can determine who is or who is not a right candidate? This can be gauged from the way a candidate leads his life. All that we need to do is amend the laws and ask the election commission to check out a few things about the candidate and his relatives. Some pertinent questions, keeping in view the Pakistani milieu, are suggested below:

  1. Does he/she have dual nationality?
  2. Does he/she hold any assets outside the country?
  3. Does he/she have running businesses outside the country?
  4. Does he/she have a history of remitting abroad heavy amounts of money?
  5. Is the whole or part of his/her immediate family resident in a foreign country?
  6. Does he/she pay personal taxes proportionate to his/her income and wealth?
  7. Has he/she or his/her family member ever taken bank loans then failed to return them or used personal influence to have them written off?
  8. Does his/her life style portray ostentation that exceeds the average status of the country’s middle class?
  9. Did he/she acquire wealth from his own legal means or in the capacity of a legatee?
  10. Has he/she been actively involved in community/social welfare work?
  11. What are his/her stakes with reference to his/her wealth or business in case he/she is elected?
  12. In the event of a crisis in the country does he/she have the ability to escape the country in order to save his/her skin?

Instead of applying objective tests for eligibility of candidates for parliaments, the present Constitutional criterion is subjective. It is more in the nature of a futile quest for finding a “perfect” human being. No one is ‘perfect’—under religious connotation to err is human—but the qualities required for membership of the parliament under our supreme law of the land makes a person appear almost ‘perfect’ especially as far as observance of religion is concerned. Ziaul Haq mutilated the Constitution in many respects but this was his worst act of hypocrisy.  

Despite the hosts of parameters and obligations to be God-fearing and righteous, how many, in the present assemblies—national and provincial—fulfill these criteria? The fact is that heads of leading parties have enormous wealth abroad and their stakes are so high in foreign lands that Pakistan is secondary to them—it is only a place where they come to rule for plundering the national wealth.

It is time now for masses to stop fooling themselves—bringing in the parliaments persons with dubious financial statuses having more interests outside than in the country. We will have to enact laws to block the way of the corrupt and incompetent to the corridors of power. The present monstrous size of ill-gotten wealth in Pakistan is symptomatic of a deep illness of the system where the corrupt rule and the honest suffer, the rich thrive and the poor strive yet starve. The corrupt, occupying top positions in State institutions, are giving blanket protection to offenders and plunderers of national wealth. In other civilized societies such anti-State elements are prisoned, their ill-gotten money and assets are seized. In Pakistan on the contrary we elect them to further loot us.

Our State is controlled and ruled by predators—the trio of indomitable civil-military complex, corrupt politicians and greedy businessmen. Majority of those in assemblies make mockery of supreme law of the land. The hypocrites want Articles 62 and 63 remain intact. They do not have even moral courage to amend these provisions having non-pragmatic tests, which cannot be proved by any empirical method. Wolves in sheep’s dress are, thus, what we elect to the assemblies.  Time has come that a public campaign is launched for amending electoral laws that can pave way for allowing unscrupulous, compassionate, selfless, committed and competent human beings to contest the elections alone. Unless it is done, we cannot get rid of looters, plunderers of national wealth, hypocrites, tax evaders and criminals.


The writers, tax lawyers, are Adjunct Professors at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

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