Period following general elections 2013 was the time, in which fears of retribution continued to loom large on heads of our parliamentarians for allegedly concealing facts or submitting false information in nomination papers on eve of their election to august houses of representation. Some lost the job and stood disqualified for life. Some lived precariously on agonizing stay orders. Only few could escape by skin of their teeth. The situation was intolerable for our erstwhile ruling elite, unaccustomed to public scrutiny and regime of penalties. Their ingenuity found the remedy in obliteration of information of all kinds in nomination forms which could land them in trouble. Na rahega baans, na bajegi bansuri was the principal motivation behind their blatant act to quash columns in form A and B of nomination papers regarding educational qualifications, current occupation/job/profession/business, dual nationality if any, NTN and income tax returns/payment of income tax, agricultural tax returns/payment of agricultural tax, criminal record if any, assets/liabilities of dependents and declarations about election expenses, default in loans or government dues by dependents and code of conduct issued by ECP. Much to dismay of people at large, PTI; an aspirant for change also kept intriguing silence on impugned forms which deprived people of their fundamental right to know about their aspiring representatives to make informed choice.
On finding people robbed of their fundamental right and tool of transparency/scrutiny by outgoing lawmakers on the name of Electoral Reforms Bill, a young journalist Habib Akram along with his young promising lawyer, Saad Rasul knocked the door of Lahore High Court to redress the wrong perpetrated. In return, Court upheld their contention and ordered ECP to ensure that all mandatory information and declarations are part of the revised form A, nomination form for election to an assembly/Senate and form B, statement of assets and liabilities. It may be of interest to note that during hearing of the case, ECP stood positive.
Contrarily to an age old proverb; a gesture is enough to the wise, the Speaker of National Assembly, Ayaz Sadiq thought it appropriate in his own wisdom to approach the Supreme Court to learn the lesson in more hard way. He appealed to Supreme Court on two lame pretexts. One, reforms bill has been passed by all parties. Two, elections are near and its date is too sacrosanct. Deep down, probably it was yet again undying notion of our ruling elite or their abiding indifference that they can make or unmake any law while riding on the roller of parliament. They continue to remain intransigent about a basic of democratic statehood that it is the constitution which is supreme, not the parliament. It could make law to regulate the law better, not to usurper right of people or infringe upon domain of another institution. Their act was a transgression on constitutional mandate of ECP to hold honest elections. This left people dismayed, anguished and angered.
The Supreme Court heard the case expeditiously and ruled what could be termed the best decision in given conditions. For the time being, it did not touch forms in question rather ordered ECP to make it mandatory for all contesting candidates to submit an affidavit that would require them to disclose information omitted in new forms. The contempt of court’s proceeding would follow if incorrect information was submitted. In reality, it is a double lock against what was being intended to. The Supreme Court is a tribunal of the nation. It did true to what is expected from them in this designation. It was not the first time that our ruling elite has to taste bitterly. Earlier it was a constitutional amendment passed by our parliament, allowing a disquieted person to head a political party. It seems that they are unwilling to learn quickly as opposed to they need to reconcile in changed environments in the country. The people are increasingly becoming widely awake. The shackles built around them are crumbling as media has become vibrant and effective than ever. The forces of change are on rise. The judiciary is in a mood to pay back. The Armed Forces stand by the constitution. All conspiracy theories are biting dust as time passes. The integrity, transparency, morality and accountability are the buzz words which otherwise have been contraband items in our polity. These are only morals if come voluntarily. Contrarily, these would extract cost. No more amount of lies, arrogance, obduracy, gimmicks and jugglery could trick for ruling elite. They have to come to the terms. Sooner is the better.
In backdrop of this discourse, one is reminded of a conversion made by a HR specialist to a job seeking candidate who was extrinsically promising but repeatedly failed to clinch the job because of deficiency in moral scruples. On inquiry, he said “morality can compensate for an intellectual shortage but wisdom can never make up for a lack of morality. Morality is the most basic expectation of a man. If you lack morals, no matter how accomplished you are, you will lose the trust and support of others. To be successful in life, you don’t have to have money, riches and wealth. All you need is empathy and steadfast moral compass”. A contesting candidate in an election is essentially a job seeker.
— The writer, retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.