Press Release, August 25
Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has demanded that the country’s next president must be non-contentious for democracy to survive.
A statement by HRCP said: HRCP has consistently called for a transition to democracy and the departure of President Musharraf has been a significant turning point.
The president must be elected by the parliament through a transparent process. HRCP appeals to political parties to make the choice with great wisdom as the country is undergoing serious crises. It reminds the political forces that the democratic process is fragile and still in the very early stages of transition.
The Office of the President must be headed by a person who inspires the confidence of all sections of society. Past experience has proved that any aspirants to the Presidency must also have unqualified credibility. A parliamentary federation demands that the president be a person who is neutral in terms of party politics and disassociate himself or herself from any single political party. There should be no shadow of doubt on his or her past.
This critical time requires that the “symbol of the federation” should be able to build bridges amongst all democratic forces rather than be seen as partisan or a manipulative politician. The struggle against military dictatorship was a collective effort of all democratic forces and, therefore, they have a stake in ensuring that a proper transition to democracy does indeed take place.
The candidature of Mr. Asif Ali Zardari does not fulfill the objective criteria that a president is expected to meet. Apart from the constitutional requirements, democratic conventions must also be observed if true democracy is to be achieved in the near future.
HRCP recognizes that Mr. Zardari has spent many years in prison and been tortured. This alone cannot be a qualification for aspiring for the highest office of the country in the background of the muddy deals and underhand manipulation that has given legitimacy to a National Reconciliation Ordinance granting blanket immunity to political activists.
HRCP fully opposes any form of revenge or victimization but cannot accept indemnities and impunities for past and future holders of public office. The Presidency must in no way be seen as a shelter-home for those accused of serious wrongdoings.
A few good traditions of the past must be retained and a candidate for the Presidency must declare all his assets and tax returns in public.
HRCP reminds the Election Commission of Pakistan of its constitutional duty to organize and conduct all elections “honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law and that corrupt practices are guarded against”. It welcomes the prompt announcement of an election schedule but laments that the timeframe given for submitting the nomination papers was fixed in an arbitrary manner. There was no consultation with the political parties represented in the parliament. This raises doubts about the motive of an election schedule fixed much before the 30-day deadline was to expire, denying political parties the opportunity to plan for the eventuality of the breakup of the coalition government by Wednesday the 6th of September.
HRCP repeats that a healthy transition to democracy is in the interest of the political parties. They must not cut the branch on which they sit. A president with doubtful integrity would lead to precisely that.