It is commonly said that democracy is the best form of government ! This form of government has peoples' participation and ultimately power remains in the hand of people. But least said is better about this democratic form of government in various nations of the planet ! One such glaring example is forthcoming elections, scheduled on May 10, in Pakistan. In the name of democracy, Pakistan ,an Islamic country where Islam orthodox only prevails. People of the world are startled to find that under democratic system in Pakistan, politicians of that country are being tested on whether they are pious enough to face the elections. Only 'devout' Muslims' politicians are eligible to contest the elections, Judges from the lower courts, who are overseeing the elections, quizzed them on whether they could recite particular Koranic verses from memory or knew how to perform various Islamic rituals.
Interestingly one candidate was asked to pledge that from now on he would 'pray five times' And if participant-contestants are found lacking all these things, they are out rightly debarred from the contesting elections ! The judges are drawing on vaguely worded clauses in Pakistan's Constitution that insist all members of the Parliament must be 'devout Muslims' it may be mentioned that clauses were imposed by General Mohammad Zia-ul- Haq, a former military ruler and religious hard-liner, as part of his sweeping "Islamization" programme during 1980s. In the past, election officials turned blind eye to the exacting religious standards set out by clauses. As many observers have quipped over the years, the stipulated demands that lawmakers be "sagacious" 'nonprofligate' observe all mandatory religious duties and abstain from 'major sins' would likely to lead an empty Parliament.
More over, the judges, conducting the Pakistan elections, won applause for standing up to lying politicians. But some question the wisdom of the move. "It is illegal, but there is a political context to it" says Ai Dayan Hasan, Director of the Pakistan Human Right Watch. A recent report in The Times World has said ,"when it comes to Pakistan's elections, many derive comfort from the fact that the religious right never wins more than 10 percent of the vote. But the political parties that neatly evade both laws imposed by Zia and Musharraf are from religious right. After being chastened at the last elections, they are back on the ascendants. When it came to degree requirement for contesting elections, as imposed by Musharraf, they madrasas education was mostly deemed equivalent to an advanced degree. And ,of course,they breezed through the piety tests." In 2002, Musharraf imposed a condition that all parliamentarian should be graduates.
The scrutiny process, critics say. could end up tilting the electoral field. " They are using a controversial overboard law imposed on the constitution by a dictator for precisely the purpose of arbitrary political screening". says Hasan and adds ," rather than allowing the voters to decided who's fit to sit in Parliament, the judges are arrogating that right to themselves. This is a form of pre-poll rigging against those who do not meet approval of these authorities on extremely flimsy grounds."
A leading lawyer Babar Sattar says, " it is impossible to decided who is and who is not a good Muslim-the language of Article-62 of the Pakistan Constitution, referring to the relevant clauses in the Constitution is not just enforceable. Are we saying someone who does not pray five times a day cannot be a member of Parliament "? The wording is so misty as to be open to widely divergent interpretations. Part of problem is that judges can read into these words their own anxieties."
Many of the members of lower judiciary, who are scrutinising the candidates have inherited their religious views from the austere readings offered in standard Pakistani textbooks, says Raja, another lawyer.The attitudes on display also appear to reflect a growing sense of religiosity in Pakistan and disenchantment with the political class. A report issued this week by N British Council found that 38 percent of young voters between the age of 18 to 29 think Sharia law is the best political system of Pakistan. Nearly a third said they would like military rule. And a paltry 29 percent said they wanted a continuation of democracy.
However, one factor that along with failing to persuade the youth of the merits of democracy, the politicians have also been unsuccessful in rolling back Zia's legacy. "These provisions should not be in the Constitution, the Parliament has clearly failed to take them out", says Sattar. Despite passing three constitutional amendments, the parliamentarians left the Islamic provisions untouched. Some ascribe the reluctance to fear of a religious backlash. In 2011, two major politicians were killed after speaking out against the country's notorious blasphemy laws.
Strangely, a well-known politician and long-standing newspaper columnist has even been disqualified to contest elections by Scrutiny judge because judges frowned him on a reference to alcohols in one of his weekly articles.. No doubt alcohol is banned in Pakistan, though bootleggers discreetly do a brisk trade.. Intense scrutiny being enforced for the first time in Pakistan. Much of it is focused on ethics and civil law. Recently for military ruler Pavez Mushrraf's nomination were rejected because judges said he subverted the Constitution when he mounted the 1999 coup that overthrow a civilian government. Strangely , nominations of many politicians have been rejected on the ground of variety of offences including defaulting in bank loans and failing to pay water bills.
However, right advocates and legal experts say judges are also reaching past questions of financial probity to arbitrarily decide who is a pious Muslim to sit in next Pakistan's Parliament.