ISLAMABAD, April 5, 2013: The discretion being applied by Returning Officers (ROs) in scrutinizing candidates for General Elections 2013 is compromising the fairness of the scrutiny process underway across Pakistan, said the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in a press statement urging immediate corrective action by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
In the absence of well-defined and objective criteria, Returning Officers are applying inconsistent approaches in phrasing questions and varying techniques to assess candidates\’ qualifications and disqualifications under Articles 62 and 63 of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan. Consequently, candidates are not being scrutinized in a uniform fashion, raising fundamental and serious concerns about the fairness of the process.
In some cases, Returning Officers also seem to be overstepping their authority in ways that are detrimental to the legitimacy of the scrutiny process. A case in point is the disqualification of Mr. Ayaz Amir, ex-Member of the National Assembly (MNA) from Chakwal, who was disqualified on the grounds of having written against the ideology of Pakistan. However, in assessing Mr. Amir\’s actions, Constitution Article 62(1)(g) should have been read with Article 63(1)(g), which requires conviction “by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan….” Mr. Amir has not been convicted by a court with competent jurisdiction, and therefore should not have been disqualified on this basis.
Election Commission of Pakistan must take immediate measures to provide standardized, objective criteria for candidate nomination scrutiny, and to limit the discretion of Returning Officers. These measures are urgently required to ensure that candidates are not subject to an arbitrary and inconsistent administrative process that undermines the fairness of General Elections 2013 as well as the constitutional and international rights of citizens to participate in electoral and political affairs.
Returning Officers also must be reminded now that they are in the service of the ECP and are required to follow exclusively the directives and instructions of the ECP throughout the election process. The Constitution provides for insulation of the ECP from executive as well as judicial influences. Efforts by any other state institution to influence the electoral process violate this constitutional principle.
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