Are you religious enough to contest elections? | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 05.04.2013
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Are you religious enough to contest elections?

Pakistan's Election Commission has rejected the nomination of Pervez Musharraf for elections under articles 62 and 63 of the constitution, which state that only 'pious' and 'law-abiding' Muslims can hold office.

Musharraf's candidacy was challenged by a local lawyer who claimed that the former President and army chief did not qualify to participate in upcoming parliamentary elections under articles 62 and 63 of the Pakistani constitution.

On Friday, the Election Commission accepted the objections and rejected the former dictator's nomination papers.

The general ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008 and supported the US "war on terror" - a move that made him quite unpopular among the country's religious groups. However, he still has many supporters in the country who want a "liberal" leader to govern the country. He returned to Pakistan from a five-year self-imposed exile last month to take part in parliamentary elections scheduled for May 11.

The Election Commission also barred renowned columnist and politician Ayaz Amir from participating in elections for his writings “against the Islamic ideology of Pakistan.”

Pervez Musharraf surrounded by security officials in Karachi during a court appearance (Photo: Rafat Saeed/DW)

A number of cases are pending against Musharraf in courts

Ayaz Amir, a liberal politician and columnist belonging to Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's right-to-center Muslim League party, has also been summoned by the Election Commission to appear before the court by April 6 to explain his position on the ideology of Pakistan.

Amir is a respected columnist in Pakistan who is known for his progressive ideas and liberal life style. He is known for his rejection of Islamism, religious fundamentalism, and obscurantism.

Amir said he would file an appeal against the decision.

The previous Pakistan People's Party's government completed its term last month and a caretaker government has been instated in the country to oversee "free and fair" elections.

Piety and patriotism

It was former Islamic dictator General Zia-ul-Haq who added articles 62 and 63 to the constitution of Pakistan. The controversial articles demand that any person participating in elections must be "of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic injunctions; has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins; and has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan."

Critics say that General Haq introduced articles 62 and 63 to Islamize the country and prolong his illegal and dictatorial rule by keeping former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's secular Pakistan People's Party out of electoral politics.

Late Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq (Photo: AP)

Haq allied with the US in the 1980s against the Soviet Union and its occupation of Afghanistan

Reacting to the Election Commission's decision, Amir wrote in his latest column in The News daily that the previous parliament should have done away with articles 62 and 63 but that it lacked the "courage and imagination" to do so.

"Which other country in the world, apart from Iran, would have such clauses as articles 62 and 63 of our constitution in their charter of national duties, prescribing a code of morality for parliamentary candidates?" questions Amir. "Iran's ayatollah was the Imam Khomeini. Our ayatollah who put these clauses in the constitution was Zia-ul-Haq. And it is a measure of the strength of Pakistani democracy that no National Assembly after Zia-ul-Haq has had the courage to touch these and similar laws which Zia brought on to the statute books under the garb of Islamization."

'Shocking'

Talking to DW about the Election Commission's decisions, human rights and social activist Fauzia Minallah said that they were equal to strangling liberal voices in Pakistan.

"It reflects that Pakistani society has become intolerant and does not respect diversity," said Minallah. "What happened to Mr. Amir is shocking because his patriotism has been questioned on the basis of his writings. It is totally in violation of the fundamental human rights of a person."

Minallah believed that Pakistan had been under siege of religious extremists for quite some time, and questioning the Islamic ideology of the state had become a crime against religion and the state.

Women supporters of Pakistani religious group Tehreek-e-Minhaj-ul-Qaran participate in a demonstration (Photo: Anjum Naveed/AP/dapd)

Many feel Pakistan is under siege of religious extremists

"Musharraf, who was perceived as a liberal and modern person ruling the country for eight years with ultimate powers, could have changed the constitution but didn't," Minallah said, adding that one should not blame civilian governments for not purging the constitution of religious clauses because they were not powerful enough to do so.

Sarwar Ali, a Dubai-based entrepreneur and former student of International Relations at the University of Karachi, told DW that "the knowledge of religion does not make a person pious and God-fearing."

"My definition of a pious and God-fearing candidate is that he is not corrupt and serves mankind without any hope of rewards," Ali said, adding that every citizen should have the right to free speech.

Liberal experts say that there has been a “dirty campaign” going on in Pakistan to malign politicians, whereas military generals and the judges are least criticized and are given the “holy status” of the "custodians of the state ideology." Some say that the right-wing has become so strong in Pakistan that liberal voices now can't be heard. Those who dare to speak, they say, are being silenced.

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