Moot demands right to contest elections for dual nationals
06 July, 2012
LONDON: Majority of British Pakistanis attending the our sources conference on 'Role of Overseas Pakistanis in the National Development' favoured amendment in the constitution to allow dual citizenship holders to contest for and hold public office in Pakistan.
A well-attended conference held at the House of Lords in collaboration with the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) of the British Parliament, through a resolution, while noting that the Article 63(1)(C) of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 stipulated that a person is disqualified to hold public office if he 'ceases' his original or 'acquires' an additional nationality, termed it a law that was discriminatory against Pakistani citizens holding dual nationality and said it must be struck off.
The resolution noted that although this law remained in the statute since 1973, no effort was made by the Election Commission of Pakistan or the judiciary to enforce it in the past, and the recent effort by them to enforce it smacked of selective prejudice, therefore, was unacceptable to dual nationality holders. The Pakistani diaspora came from Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford, Rochdale, Bolton, Coventry, Rugby, Oldham, Rotherham, and other cities of Britain, and were led by Association of Pakistani Lawyers Chairman Barrister Amjad Malik.
They introduced the resolution, saying the present focus of the law was narrow and it targeted only those seeking public office and excluded other functionaries of the state, such as generals, bureaucrats and judges, whose loyalty to the Pakistani state, they remarked, was neither more nor less than Pakistanis holding dual nationality. The state of Pakistan remained deprived of services that could be rendered to it by its eight million loyal citizens holding dual nationality and this is detrimental to the interests of the state and all its citizens, the participants of the conference noted.
They were of the view that the Pakistani citizens holding dual nationality were a vital resource of the state, contributing approximately $3 billion to its economy each year, and therefore, worthy of holding public office. While addressing the conference, Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed pledged all-out support to the overseas Pakistani community, saying that they were playing a pivotal role in these challenging times, especially at the time of political pressures. "Overseas Pakistanis are emerging as a backbone of our economy through remittances of almost $15 billion. When assistance is used as a tool and lever to pressure Pakistan, only overseas Pakistanis came for the rescue through remittances, which showed they were committed to Pakistan," he stated.
Mushahid further said that these days wars were not fought through militaries, instead the battle of ideas were the first line of defence. "When there is an issue of Kashmir or Pakistan's sovereignty and national security, overseas people played their role on the international level," he observed, while remarking that the Pakistani diaspora was key to the rise of Pakistan and more loyal to their motherland than the people living in Pakistan. Mushahid was of the view that the 21st century was an Asian century. He said that the world's fastest growing economies, China and India, introduced reforms with the help of their overseas nationals, who played a pivotal role in their economic development.
"We all were satisfied and there was consensus that overseas Pakistanis should and must have representation in parliament and we will have to work together on this without making it a political football. I can assure that the PML-Q will fight for the rights of overseas Pakistanis. The process and solutions will be acceptable to everybody," he declared.
Another participant of the moot, Ishaq Dar, leader of opposition in Senate, in his speech said that overseas Pakistanis' remittances were second to exports revenue. The total remittances this year were $12 billion with the rise of 20 percent, he noted. He said the overseas Pakistanis were amongst the priorities of the PML-N, and noted that they proved their loyalty to a democratic Pakistan by protesting several times against the dictatorial regime of former president Pervez Musharraf.
He said Article 63(1)(C) was abused in the past due to a mistake by the Election Commission and other institutions. "If we want to change the law then we will have to make changes in the constitution," he stated, adding, "The electoral college of overseas Pakistanis should be separate. I can commit that PML-N will fight the case with consensus. If we can pass the 18th, 19th and 20th amendments then why not 21st for the rights of overseas Pakistanis." He said overseas Pakistanis would have representation in parliament in the future.
Addressing the gathering, PML-N MNA Anusha Rehman said that Article 63(1)(C) was a part of the constitution and a base to become a member of parliament. Supreme Court of Pakistan had no other option but to interpret the constitution and to issue a decision on dual citizenship in the light of constitution, she observed, adding that interim orders of the Supreme Court in dual citizenship cases were justified in the eyes of law. She also supported the observation made by the Supreme Court that if parliament wanted a dual citizen to be its member, the legislature should amend the constitution accordingly.
"Two suggestions are under consideration in our party that some seats in parliament should be reserved for dual citizens or they should be given freedom to contest elections on general seats. This issue needs deliberations after thorough analysis PML-N will announce its policy in this regard," Rehman said. She opined that when Article 63(1)(C) was included in the constitution, the world was not a global village, but now it was the need of time to make amendments in the constitution.
All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) in the House of Lords Chairman Lord Nazir Ahmed, in his speech, criticised PML-N's Khawaja Saad Rafique for his statement that people who took oath of the British Queen could not be loyal to Pakistan. "I and other hundreds of thousands Pakistanis and Kashmiris never took oath in a ceremony. This oath was introduced just five years back. But even taking oath for the British citizenship does not mean that we are against Pakistan," he pronounced.
Speaking on the occasion, Third World Solidarity head Mushtaq Lashari said that the overseas Pakistanis simply want acknowledgement befitting their contribution. He said that dual nationals should be allowed to cast their vote and contest elections. He said that before any relevant amendment in the constitution, the government of Pakistan should consult dual nationals. "There is no need to impose a view, and there is no degree of loyalty to state as all citizens are required to be loyal to the state under Article 5 of the 1973 Constitution. So these politicians must listen to what people are saying," he concluded.
The participants of the conference, most of whom were professionals, said eight million overseas Pakistanis were in favour of opening Pakistani legislatures to them, saying the world had become a global village and interests have diverged to an extent that instead of nationality, services must be sought on the basis of skill and experience. The man fit for a job must get the job instead of a crony, they demanded, adding Pakistan must not close doors to its own people in support of 'status quo' and 'monopoly' and violation of Article 25 of constitution. They called for parliament to legislate quickly to end the debate on the issue of dual nationality. The attendants of the seminar said procedural changes may be brought to make a member surrender his/her foreign passport to the Election Commission before joining parliament, but that process must have clarity. In the end, the participants concluded that parliament of Pakistan, if required, should amend the constitution at the earliest to facilitate the holder of dual citizenships to enable them become members of parliament through elections.