Tuesday September 21, 2021

Proposed constitutional amendments: Dual nationals to be allowed to contest elections but not to sit in legislatures

September 16, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The government is not inclined to have dual national Pakistanis sitting in the national and provincial legislatures, according to the draft constitutional amendments approved by the federal cabinet recently.

While the government is prepared to let dual nationals contest direct and indirect elections, such persons will have to surrender their dual nationality before taking oath as lawmakers. To give effect to this change, the draft provides for the substitution of certain words in Article 62(1)(c) of the constitution. The existing provision reads: “A person shall be disqualified from being elected or chosen as, and from being, a member of the parliament if he ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan, or acquires the citizenship of a foreign State.” The replacement substitutes for the words “or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state”, the words “or in case of dual citizenship [he] does not provide as a conclusive proof the certificate of renunciation of citizenship of a foreign state before taking oath” [he shall be disqualified as legislator].

Such a certificate has to be furnished within 60 days, according to another amendment contained in the present package, as it will be mandatory for a member-elect to take oath of office within this timeframe. Another constitutional amendment calls for an ‘open’, non-secret election to the Senate. For this purpose, a change has been proposed in Article 59(2).

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has long been calling for an open election to the Senate. This demand intensified after the Senate vote in 2019 when several of its members in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) voted against the party’s directives. As a result, some candidates of the opposition parties were elected senators. No direct election has been prescribed for the upper house of parliament in the present set of changes.

Article 226 states that all elections under the constitution, other than those of the prime minister and the chief minister, shall be by secret ballot. The draft amendment has proposed to include the Senate elections in the open vote earlier provided for the prime minister and chief ministers only. At present, the elections of the members of the national and provincial assemblies, Senate and their presiding officers are held by secret ballot. Constitutional exemption is restricted to the election of the premier and chief ministers only. Yet another amendment has been recommended in Article 65 to make it obligatory for candidates-elect to take oath as members within 60 days, failing which they would lose their right to be members. The article states that a person elected to a House shall not sit or vote until he has taken an oath before the House in the form set out in the third schedule. The amendment has proposed a proviso, which says if a person elected to a House fails to take oath before the House to which he is elected within sixty days from the date of the first sitting of that House after its election, such a person shall lose his right to be a member of the relevant House and his seat shall be deemed to have been vacated on the sixtieth day.

Senior politician Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is the only member-elect of the Punjab Assembly who has not taken oath of office after his election in the 2018 general polls. Ishaq Dar has also not taken oath as Senator after his election. The merits and demerits of the three proposed amendments apart, it is a known fact that the ruling coalition does not have a two-thirds majority required for the passage of a constitutional amendment in either parliamentary chamber. In the National Assembly, it enjoys a simple majority that is not a comfortable one. In the Senate, it does not have even that. In this scenario, the approval of a constitutional amendment is difficult unless the parliamentary players reach a consensus, for which there is not much probability.

It is obvious that by suggesting the amendment relating to dual nationals, the ruling party wants to send a message to overseas Pakistanis with dual citizenship: that it is sincere and serious in having their representation in the legislatures if they renounce their dual nationality after their election and before taking oath as lawmakers.