Eyes on the prize
THE spirit behind the Election Commission of Pakistan’s project to scrutinise election candidates is understandable. Pakistan has long suffered at the hands of corrupt politicians. And while there is no way to ensure that someone running for office has never committed any misconduct and won’t when in office, there is information out there that can point out obviously crooked election candidates. So the calls for scrutinising data to identify those who have dabbled in high-stakes corruption, defaulted on significant loans or avoided paying money they owe the state in taxes or utility bills makes sense — up to a point.
The objective of this scrutiny should be to weed out the truly rotten elements in the system. What it should not become is a process so focused on the minutiae of data gathering and verification that it becomes impractical and gets in the way of the ultimate goal: successfully holding elections. Nor should it become a witch-hunt, or an attempt to meet subjective notions of who is “honest and ameen” — a constitutional clause that was inserted by Gen Ziaul Haq and which there is no conceivable way to apply impartially. A classic example of missing the forest for the trees is the letter that has apparently been sent to parliamentarians asking them to submit their educational qualifications. The graduation condition for election candidates has been done away with. Revisiting the closed issue — presumably in an attempt to establish that people told the truth when they last ran — is a waste of time given all the other information the ECP has decided to verify. What it does do is create a perception of misconduct across the board. And there is not much point going after those perceived to be corrupt if that leaves no one to contest polls — or at least no one people will vote for — or, in the worst case scenario, is used by some as an excuse to delay putting a newly elected government in place. The ECP’s zeal is welcome, but it should be focused on the bigger picture: holding the cleanest elections possible, not making them impossible to hold.