Pakistan court orders poll officials to stop 'intrusive' questions

LahorePakistani vendors fix posters of candidates taking part in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Lahore. (AP/PTI)

A Pakistani court has barred election officials from asking irrelevant or intrusive questions while scrutinizing nomination papers after days of televised proceedings during which candidates were asked to recite Quranic verses and to reveal intimate details.

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah of the Lahore High Court issued the order yesterday evening following widespread criticism of the questioning of candidates by Returning Officers, who are mostly the judges of lower courts deputed to assist election authorities. In his order, Shah directed Returning Officers to "immediately refrain" from asking random intrusive and inquisitive questions that have no nexus with information given in the nomination papers or do not arise from the objections raised by the other side".

During proceedings conducted in front of TV cameras, the Returning Officers had asked candidates to prove their Islamic credentials by reciting Quranic verses or by explaining the method for offering prayers. In one instance, an official asked a candidate how he "did justice" to his two wives while another official asked a candidate from a religious party to explain the procedure for bathing a body before burial.

Such questioning of candidates has been strongly criticized by politicians and civil society groups after it was given widespread coverage by the media. Commentators have described some of the queries posed by Returning Officers as weird and bizarre. Justice Shah contended that the Returning Officers were tarnishing the image of the judiciary by asking candidates irrelevant questions.

Shah issued the ruling while hearing a petition seeking implementation of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, which have given rise to much of the questioning. Article 62 states a person will not be qualified to contest polls unless "he is of good character and has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings" while Article 63 lays down the grounds on which a person can be disqualified as a member of parliament.

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