Allowing those with dual nationality to contest elections – Yasmeen Aftab Ali

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Business Recorder in a news item stated that,” Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has decided to make legislation for allowing Pakistanis to contest in the general elections who have dual nationality.”

This is an interestingly controversial proposition having both merits and demerits. Both need to be carefully weighed before a decision is made. The present legislation bars dual citizens from contesting elections under Article 63-1(c) of the Constitution that says that “A person shall be disqualified from being elected or chosen as, or being a member of the Majlis-i-Shoora (parliament) if he ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan, or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state.”

This is a U-turn by PTI as PM Khan had on many occasions opposed such a move. However, one must analyze the move rationally. Unless and until the very security of the public is threatened, the dual nationality is a right that is not to be curtailed. The question here is; if dual nationals are allowed to contest elections, does it cause a public security threat? The legal meaning of threat to public security may be defined as, “the consolidation would place the public in greater danger of injury than if the consolidation did not occur.”

This can only happen if there is a conflict of interest between being the holder of a foreign nationality and being a Parliamentarian.Conflict of interest is defined as; “A conflict of interest arises when what is in a person’s best interest is not in the best interest of another person or organization to which that individual owes loyalty”(Ethics Unwrapped)

But cannot a conflict of interest arise if an individual is answerable to two different set of people or groups, in this case, oath to two different nations with their interests at conflict with each other? Which of the two oaths should the dual national respond to and which oath to ignore?

Many countries in the world do recognize dual citizenship, including USA. Based on the US Department of State regulation on Dual Citizenship (7 FAM 1162), the Supreme Court of the United States has stated that dual citizenship is a “status long recognized in the law” and that “a person may have and exercise rights of nationality in two countries and be subject to the responsibilities of both. The mere fact he asserts the rights of one citizenship does not without more mean that he renounces the other.” (Kawakita v. U.S., 343 U.S. 717)India on the other hand does not allow dual nationality to anyone holding an Indian nationality.

As dual nationals, Parliamentarians may be involved in businesses and pursuing commercial activties in another country not only taking their focus away from the work of law besides not only allowing adequate time to be in touch with one’s constituency and getting to feel the pulse of the needs of the people within, but also forcing them in the uncomfortable position of determining upon a law that forces the dual national Parliamentarian to choose sides between his allegiance to Pakistan and allegiance to the country awarding him a nationality.

The word “allegiance” means that we promise loyalty. It also carries with it the expectation that this loyalty will absolutely exclusive to one country, one leader, or entity. In the case of a declared war or real threat or conflict, for example, our allegiance to Pakistan should preclude any other interest, be it another country or political ideology. Since citizenship implies without a question of doubt, the duty to be loyal to one country over all others, the very idea of dual citizenship raises questions about which of the two citizenships will have priority at different times. What factors will guide the allegiance? This is extremely important when the two countries have opposing interests. It can be a serious dilemma when a dual citizen is highly placed within our power corridors. It is like having a Japanese citizen serving in the Pentagon during WWII.Or in the given changing geopolitical scenario and evolving alliances, having a Chinese as the Defense Minister of U.S.

The very idea of dual nationality seems antithetical to the traditional conception of the state and its relationship to individuals, a conception dominated by notions of indivisible allegiance, which leave little room for multiple attachments.” (Carnegie Endowment for Peace-January 1999)

One can appreciate that PM Khan may wish to ‘own’ the diaspora by their inclusion in mainstream policy making, however, the ethical and practical issues raised must be dealt with logic and sensitivity. Can they contribute robustly in lawmaking process from foreign shores? Can they devote time needed to their constituencies? If the government tries to push this change in law it will also require change of law demanding presence of two-third majority in both houses. In the given polarization between PTI and opposing parties this seems unlikely.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: yasmeenali62@gmail.com and tweets at @yasmeen_9