Returning Officers prod candidates with irrelevant questions

A controversy in Pakistan is brewing over the questions being asked by Returning Officers when accepting nomination papers from prospective candidates. Many have been asked questions about their knowledge of Islam and of the constitution of Pakistan. Others have been asked about their personal lives and their business dealings, families and marriages.

Behind these questions are articles of the constitution of Pakistan that define a person to be elected to a public office should be of good moral character and upright.

"This is part of the constitution and the manner that the Election Commission is translating this is correct. If you have problems with this, then the parliament should amend it," comments eminent constitutional expert SM Zafar.

The clauses were inserted by General Zia-ul Haq in the amended constitution of 1973. Several years after, these clauses have not been removed by successive parliaments.

"Till now, the scrutiny process was not as rigorous and no one thought that this could be used to have candidates disqualified," comments Hamid Mir, a popular talk show host.

Many have been disqualified over the past week for submitting fake degrees and documents, for non-declaration of their assets, for holding dual nationalities and some for not being able to recite verses or answer questions about the history of Pakistan when asked by the returning officer.  This has angered many people. 

MQM leader Altaf Hussain told a rally on Friday that it is not the job of the Election Commission to enter into the personal lives of people and ask embarrassing questions about their relations with their wife or husband. He also said the election commissioner should discourage his staff from asking questions about personal faith.


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