The thorny matter of persons holding dual nationality, and their eligibility or otherwise for a parliamentary seat, rumbles on. It is reported that the Pakistan People’s Party has finalised a draft amendment bill which will allow those who hold dual nationality to also become members of parliament under Article 63(1)(c) of the Constitution. The Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz, which had been opposing such a move has been (allegedly) persuaded to show ‘silent support’ to the government in the National Assembly when the bill comes for passage. The PPP rationale appears to be that if the likes of Lord Nazir and Chaudhry Sarwar can be parliamentarians in other countries and hold dual nationality, then why should the same not be true of Pakistan? The apex court has already barred Farahnaz Ispahani, Amna Buttar and Rehman Malik for holding dual nationality, and on Tuesday suspended the membership of Jamil Awan of the PML-N for holding Dutch as well as Pakistani citizenship. In an interesting turn of creative semantics Awan argued that he was a national of the Netherlands, but not a citizen, and that as he was not a citizen – presumably as in not living there or having any assets there – the court should find in his favour. That the court did not do so is a fair indication that it is going to be consistent in its application and interpretation of the Constitution, and there will be others yet to fall afoul of it.
With about 3.5 million of our citizens living in other countries, many of them holding dual nationality and an untold number of dual nationals living here, this is a matter of political significance, particularly when it comes to the casting of votes. The overseas vote is seen as important by all the major parties and they have no wish to jeopardise their chances of winning these valuable voters to their side. Opponents of the amendment argue that the system would be open to abuse were the Constitution re-worded and that we may find ourselves with ‘imported prime ministers’ in the future, as has happened in the past. The current PM and his predecessor have been severely critical of the legislation as it stands, and MQM Altaf Hussain, who has recently had extensive discussions with President Zardari in London, called it ‘a fundamental violation of human rights’ when he addressed a rally in Karachi last week. If the PML-N has been prevailed upon not to vociferously oppose the amendment, we might see several currently suspended parliamentarians permitting themselves wry smiles as they turn laws in their direction. But we wonder who the politicians would be benefiting if they prevailed and amended the Constitution.