This article was published in Dawn on August 14, 2019 and is available at the following link
Perhaps it was the impressively large gathering of Pakistani-Americans at the Capital One Arena in Washington DC during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the US, that prompted him to initiate legal arrangements to enable dual nationality holders to contest elections in Pakistan.
Currently, the constitution of Pakistan does not allow persons of dual nationality to run for office. Article 63 (1)(c) of the constitution disqualifies a person from contesting elections “if he ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state.”
This means that even if a person does not cease to be a Pakistani citizen but simply acquires dual nationality, he or she will be unable to contest elections for Pakistan’s parliament. This particular disqualification has been a part of the constitution since 1973.
If the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government plans to facilitate dual-nationals’ entry to the electoral arena, it will need to amend the constitution for which it requires a two-third majority in both the National Assembly and the Senate which PTI and its allies lack. The coalition led by the PTI has a simple working majority in the National Assembly but is in a minority in the Senate. On the face of it, and taking into consideration the prevailing state of animosity between the PTI-led government and the opposition, it looks rather difficult to evolve a consensus between the two on a constitutional amendment.
However, if the proposed amendment does not seek a radical shift from the current status, as indicated recently by Senator Azam Swati, the Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, there is a possibility of finding some common ground with the opposition.
There could be serious differences of opinion in case the proposed constitutional amendment seeks to allow dual nationals to sit in the legislatures without renouncing their second nationality.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob
According to media reports backed by Swati, the PTI merely wants to allow dual nationality holders to contest elections without renouncing their second nationality but they will still be required to renounce their foreign nationality before taking oath as a legislator in case they get elected.
This is not a major departure from the present constitutional provisions on the subject and it is possible that both the government and the opposition end up supporting the constitutional amendment just because neither side would want to lose the goodwill of Pakistani dual nationals.
Three months ago, a similar scenario was witnessed in the National Assembly when both the Treasury and the Opposition unanimously supported the 26th constitutional amendment which sought to increase the number of seats of the erstwhile federally administered tribal areas (FATA) in the National Assembly and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assembly. At that time, both sides were keen to show solidarity with the people of former FATA despite the fact that the proposed amendment was against the spirit of the constitution which allocates National Assembly seats only on the basis of population.
Even the amendment proposed by Swati will be a significant concession to dual nationals as they won’t have to take the risk of losing their foreign nationality before winning the election. Quite a few elected legislators have lost their membership in the recent past because they had not formally renounced their foreign nationality before filing their nomination papers for election.
In the region, Pakistan has so far strictly denied permission to dual nationals to contest the election. India is a shade stricter, and does not allow dual nationality at all. Bangladesh, like Pakistan, does not allow those with a second citizenship to contest elections.
It seems that emerging economies are stricter about allowing dual nationals to contest elections since democratic institutions there are not as developed to mitigate any possible fallout from dual nationals’ participation in elections.
On the other hand, in Britain and the US, parliamentary and congressional elections carry easier conditions for citizenship.
There could be serious differences of opinion in case the proposed constitutional amendment seeks to allow dual nationals to sit in the legislatures without renouncing their second nationality. The most serious objection will be about the possible conflict of interest if a dual national legislator is voting on a matter which adversely affects the country of their second nationality.
Pakistan may be ready to allow dual nationals to contest elections without prior renouncing of the second nationality but having sitting legislators with two nationalities seems rather premature.