ISLAMABAD - Election officials have rejected nomination papers filed in one constituency by Pakistan's former military leader, Pervez Musharraf, for national elections expected on May 11. The rejection of former General Musharraf's filing is just one of many vetos that election officials have made against potential candidates they find to be unsuitable.
Spurred on by the Election Commission of Pakistan, election officials have been scrutinizing every candidate's nomination papers for false information, tax evasion or evidence they have violated Pakistan's constitution.
Two articles of the constitution exclude any candidates who have worked against the integrity or ideology of the country, are in debt, have been convicted of acting in a way prejudicial to Pakistan, or have been found guilty of moral turpitude.
The rejection by one constituency of Musharraf's nomination papers may stall his attempt to regain national political leadership. However, the former president's spokeswoman, Asia Ishaq, says a team of lawyers will appeal the case to the country's highest court.
"We are going to plead that article 62 or 63 of the constitution cannot be implemented by the Election Commission of Pakistan until and unless the person in the case is convicted by any court of law, and President Musharraf has never been convicted by any court of law in any case," she said.
Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March from four years in exile. Musharraf said he resigned as president because political forces that won the elections in 2008 had threatened to impeach him, and a few months later he left Pakistan.
Several criminal cases still pending in Pakistan link Musharraf to the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and another nationally prominent political figure. The former president has repeatedly denied those charges, and his legal advisers managed to arrange bail before he returned home to Pakistan.
The election commission's Afzal Khan said earlier that strict scrutiny of candidates' nominating petitions is one of a number of measures being applied to ensure fair elections.
"We are not going to be distracted from our main national mission and objective: That is, holding of the country's best, cleanest, intimidation-free, fairest election, the election in which the loser will say, yes they have lost, but genuinely. We are not going to succumb to any pressure," said Khan.
Senator Saeed Ghani says the actions of the lower-level officials who review nominating petitions are questionable, and he believes the Election Commission is distancing itself from their actions.
"We are not against the scrutiny of the papers, but the questions raised by the returning officers, relating to the religious faith and whether the candidate is offering five times prayer or not [praying five times daily], and how many wives he has, and if he have more than one wife how he can justify the responsibility. So I think this [is] ridiculous because this is nothing to do with election or the candidature of a person," said the senator.
Already, dozens of candidates out of the roughly 1,000 vying for provincial or federal office have been rejected for lying about their academic degrees. One other had his nomination thrown out for allegedly stealing water.
Columnist and former lawmaker Ayaz Amir had his nomination papers turned down because an official checking his documents said some of his writings had violated the constitution.
"The complaint was that in my columns I had touched upon sensitive matters like the ideology of Pakistan, and there was a mention of, I think, drinking in one of my columns or in more than one column, so that was the complaint brought against me," he said.
Amir says the articles are constitutional, but he questions the abilities of the officers who interpret and enforce them. He says he will appeal his case.
The May 11 elections are seen as historic in Pakistan, since they mark the first civilian to civilian transfer of power via the ballot box in the country's history.