EDITORIAL: Purge time
It seems that with the departure of the previous government, open season has been declared on politicians vying to be re-elected. The judiciary in particular, with the Supreme Court (SC) leading the charge, appears in a mood to make up for all the frustration it may have suffered for four years since its restoration in 2009 in not being able to lay its hands on the politicians in power or at the very least elected as parliamentarians on various charges. A whole raft of developments seems to point in this direction. On April 1, the SC decreed the deadline of April 5 for 189 ex-parliamentarians to get their educational degrees verified or face disqualification. The list of parliamentarians under ‘threat’ includes some big names, who now run the risk of being knocked out of the electoral contest even before it has begun. The SC has instructed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to conduct a ruthless scrutiny of the nomination papers of all aspirants to elected office. In the parliamentarians’ fake degree case being heard by a three-member bench of the SC headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the court was of the view that an illiterate person would be acceptable as a candidate in the elections, but not one who practices deception. The logic of this position stems from the fact that although the Musharraf-imposed condition of a graduate degree for being elected to parliament has been done away with, these ‘erring’ parliamentarians are now being tested on the touchstone of Article 62 of the constitution as ‘non-ameen’ (not truthful). If the sword dangling over the heads of these parliamentarians (including some leading lights of the mainstream parties) comes down, the raft of candidates will appear ‘thinner’.
In case someone thinks that these remarks about the judiciary are misplaced or exaggerated, one only has to look at the non-bailable arrest warrants issued by a Federal Anti-Corruption Court against Amin Faheem and others, the SC’s suo motu notice of two former prime ministers, Yousaf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashram’s granting of illegal CNG stations to alleged favourites, Raja sahib’s cases before the SC regarding the RPPs, road projects in his constituency and the OGRA case, amongst others, to get the picture. The redoubtable Jamshed Dasti has been disqualified for a fake degree, amongst other lesser fry. It would appear that the judiciary is bent upon ‘catching up’ with all the cases of alleged crimes and misdemeanours against various politicians from the previous assemblies to ‘cleanse’ the list of candidates in the forthcoming elections of all taint. Article 62 has become the instrument not only for determining the integrity of all candidates, reports speak of its clause (e) being employed to check the candidates’ knowledge of Islam during scrutiny of nomination papers.
Now these developments give rise to a number of concerns. Unless the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and the ECP have undergone a complete transformation overnight, it seems difficult if not impossible for them to complete a task in a few days that they have been unable to bring to closure in three years. Second, the objection in principle to Articles 62 and 63 rests on the fact that these were inserted by General Ziaul Haq for malign purposes, do not define the criteria for judging the candidates’ character in clear, legal terms, are inherently dependent on subjective judgements, and therefore are flawed as constitutional provisions, with the exception of parliamentarians having been proved guilty in a court of law of hanky panky. Unfortunately, for all its monumental changes to the constitution through the 18th amendment, the political class could not find the political consensus or will to do away with these remnants of the Zia dictatorship. If large numbers of politicians are ‘axed’ from the electoral race because of these articles, it will revive memories from Pakistan’s past of politicians being kept out of elections through means such as the EBDO and other non-democratic tools. The end result will resemble nothing less than the purges communist regimes in the past were accused of and roundly condemned for. Not a happy thought for a country attempting to put democracy on sound footings. *
SECOND EDITORIAL: MQM’s wish list
The latest wish list that has landed in our laps is from the MQM through its manifesto. Every political party has announced similar things, with an effort to appear different (with not much success, one might add). There are some very important things dogging the heels of this country, such as an inefficient tax system, energy crisis, education failure, and absence of local government system. MQM has talked about these vociferously in its manifesto. No country, other than the oil-rich economies, can survive without an efficient tax system. In the absence of adequate and reliable sources of revenue, a country lives either on borrowing or on aid, typical of Pakistan throughout its existence. The result is that we invest a large chunk of our budget in debt servicing. That speaks about the inefficacy of our development projects, which either remain on paper or if implemented, are not completed in time or satisfactorily. This fiscal crisis can be addressed by reducing the incidence of tax evasion and by widening the tax base. The previous regime of PPP, of which the MQM has been an ally both in the Sindh and federal government, could do little in this respect; in fact they had been considering providing amnesty to tax evaders on the pretext of incentivising them to pay taxes in future. The bill, for obvious reasons, could not sail through parliament. MQM in its manifesto has reiterated its desire to bring back the written off loans to the national exchequer, to tax the untaxed, especially the agriculture sector, and to introduce tax cuts to provide relief to the urban middle class. What, it may be asked, prevented MQM from pressurising the PPP to introduce these tax reforms during the last five years?
For the education sector the goals are no less glorious. Five percent of GDP has been earmarked for education. Second to energy, education is perhaps the worst performing sector of Pakistan. Obviously the MQM is equally committed like all the other parties to rehabilitate the energy sector. For sure the next government will be evaluated on its ability to reform the ailing energy sector. Last but not the least and typical to its stance, MQM will introduce a local government system when it next comes to power. There is no gainsaying the fact that local government is the backbone of a democratic system, of course if implemented fairly to provide relief to all without discrimination. *