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Purging Candidates Offers Pakistan A Bit Of Comic Relief

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
April 9, 2013

In Pakistan, the culling of candidates in the run up to May 11 election is providing the country some badly needed levity.

The Pakistani Inquisition as it’s been dubbed has election commission officials grilling office-seekers on their Islamic bona fides.

Many have stumbled badly, only to be disqualified.

But not Mussarat Shaheen, who performed impeccably. The former dancer fabled for her Pushto films was asked by an official in Dera Ismail Khan to recite a verse of the Holy Koran to test her mettle as a candidate for the National Assembly.

The actress better known for her provocative moves than her piety rattled off a series of verses then wryly asked her inquisitor if he wanted to hear more. The sheepish official smiled and accepted her nomination papers.

An attorney in Lahore questioned the religious credentials of Shabaz Sharif, the long-serving Chief Minister of the Punjab and younger brother of former Prime Minister and Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif. His transgression: not wearing a beard. To the amusement of audiences, the country’s frenzied media wasted no time in doctoring photos of the younger Sharif sporting flowing facial hair.

Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission said “a charade is being played out in the name of scrutiny of nomination papers.” The Pakistani daily the International News opined “how this will help us find legislators able to offer good governance is not clear.”

Others suggested that the Election Commission benignly ignore the Constitutional requirement ushered in by the 1980′s military rule of General Zia ul Haq that office holders be knowledgeable of Islam.

But being sufficiently religious isn’t all there is to prove.

The Long Arm of Justice

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ordered the Election Commission to “ruthlessly scrutinize” whether office seekers have paid their taxes, defaulted on loans or lied about their education. The Daily Times said that “the Court was of the view that an illiterate person would be acceptable in the elections, but not one who practiced deception.”

Election officials report that the degrees of at least 54 lawmakers have been found bogus. Some have been fined, others jailed, some both. Scores more were told to verify their education credentials or risk being knocked out of the electoral contest.

The condition of a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent, imposed by former military ruler Pervaiz Musharraf, is no longer in effect. But the erring parliamentarians are being hoisted on the petard of Article 62 of the Constitution which effectively disqualifies a candidate who is “non-ameen,” or “not truthful.”

Aspiring candidates are taking full advantage of the elimination of the graduate-degree requirement, arguing that being honest is more important that being educated.

Boutique owner Zaheen Kanwak Mukhtar, didn’t finish high schoollet alone earn a degreebut is running in her hometown of Multan because “I’m giving voice to the voiceless in my constituency,” she declared.

Musharraf would also like a voice again. He returned from exile hoping to stage a comeback, but may wish he hadn’t. Apart from the tepid homecoming he’s been put on Pakistan’s Exit Control List which forbids him from leaving the country. The Supreme Court today has given him until April 15 to respond to charges of treason.

He’s also suffered the ignominy of being disqualified from the polls in Punjab province. Officials cited his failure to declare all of his assets and outstanding court cases against him, including allegations that he was complicit in Benazir Bhutto’s murder, a case being tried in an anti-terror court in Rawalpindi.

Musharraf still has three other venues in which to try to contest a seat. He could also appeal the disqualification in the Punjab. But columnist Cyril Almeida says the best punishment for the former strongman is “to allow him to come back to Pakistan and discover his own irrelevance.”

The former president is not the only big fry on the grill. The Sharif brothers are accused of accumulating wealth beyond their means and of defaulting on loans.

Denying the charge, an incensed Shabaz Sharif announced if the brothers had been discovered defaulting on so much as a penny, he would “quit politics for good.”

“The misinformation is … deeply hurting millions of our supporters,” the younger Sharif said.

The rejection of a former Member of the National Assembly and prominent journalist Ayaz Amir was offensive to even those outside his party. He was disqualified for “writing against the ideology of Pakistan.”

No one seems quite sure what that “ideology” is but “much mischief can and is being wrought in this undefined ideology’s name,” wrote the Daily Times.

Simple ignorance has tripped up others candidates. One parliamentary hopeful was disqualified after saying that Pakistan was created “in 1937.” Correct answer: 1947.

Disqualifying tax dodgers in a country with a notoriously low tax base poses a significant question: who will be left to run?

It’s reported that 70 percent of Pakistan’s National Parliamentarians do not pay taxes.

The Supreme Court’s zeal to scrub the candidate lists from taint perhaps springs from its inability to bring to book most major politicians considered either corrupt or in contempt of its rulings in the last four years since the court was restored.

Curbing Sillines

In what has been described as theater of the absurd, a judge in Lahore has ordered election officials to refrain from asking candidates random and intrusive questions that have no bearing on their ability to govern.

One father was gratuitously asked which of his two children he liked more. A husband and wife, both office seekers, were asked who would run the household if she were elected.

With or without the courts, the public, disillusioned with the wretched state of the economy and security, will decide whether to send the political class packing on Election Day.

Perhaps fearing that too many voters might avail themselves of the option, authorities have ruled against introducing another entry to the ballot: “None of the Above.” [Copyright 2013 NPR]

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