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Pakistani lawmakers' citizenship under scrutiny

Associated Press Modified: October 6, 2012 at 3:31 am •  Published: October 6, 2012
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Opinions among lawmakers are divided about the principle of letting people with other nationalities run for office, and consensus on what to do about the existing law may be tough to achieve. A government attempt to change the law to allow foreign citizenship-holders to contest office has stalled.

Supporters of the court's actions question the loyalty of Pakistanis with other passports, asking whether they can truly represent the people in this country, where the majority live in poverty and have little chance to travel abroad. Others insist that Pakistanis with foreign ties often retain strong bonds to their homeland and can offer resources and expertise the country needs.

"Loyalty is a subjective thing," said Faisal Subzwari, a top official with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a party in the ruling coalition which supports letting Pakistanis with other nationalities run for office. "People who have been looting and plundering our resources, people who have been trying to harm the motherland — the vast majority have not had dual nationality."

Citizenship requirements for officeholders vary widely across the world.

In the United States, dual citizens have held top offices — former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hung on to his Austrian citizenship while also being a naturalized American, for instance. But in Egypt, a presidential candidate whose late mother held U.S. citizenship was disqualified in accordance with a law that bans presidential hopefuls, their spouses and their parents from holding another nationality.

The citizenship controversy echoes another recent Pakistani scandal, one involving lawmakers alleged to have faked their educational degrees to meet a requirement for office. Afgan, the election official, said more than 50 fake degree cases were pursued. It's questionable if the notoriously slow courts will ever resolve them all. The degree requirement has since been canceled.

The political maneuvering could foretell a bitter election season in Pakistan. Elections are expected at some point in the spring, though the vote may be called earlier.

The ruling People's Party is likely to lose seats, but it still could win more than any other party in parliament. Analysts expect other factions, such as the Pakistan Muslim League-N of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former cricket star Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party to do well. Sharif's party has a strong shot at defeating the People's Party.

Political analyst Rizvi said the next government is likely to be another coalition. Depending on the number of seats each party wins, it's possible the lead grouping will have to make even more compromises than today's People's Party has had to. Rizvi said the best case is that the government will be as weak as this one.

"It will be either as weak, or weaker. It seems very clear it can't be a stronger government," he said.

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Nahal Toosi can be reached at http://twitter.com/nahaltoosi.