Arrests and polls

The News

The National Accountability Bureau’s announcement that it would not arrest any candidates for the general elections till after the elections are held is a prudent one for a number of reasons. There are now less than three weeks left to the election and any candidate who is arrested has a cloud hanging over him or her, with insufficient time left to prove guilt or innocence. Even though we operate under the presumption of innocence, any action by NAB would automatically brand a candidate with a scarlet letter. This decision will also silence any speculation that NAB is placing a thumb on the scales and taking action only against specific political parties. There is sure to be criticism – especially from those political parties who have not been in power recently and so are unlikely to be caught in corruption scandals – that this will lead to corrupt candidates contesting elections. But it is important to note that NAB will still pursue corruption cases and still arrest anyone that it believes needs to be charged – but only after the voters have had their say. Anyone who is elected but is later found guilty of corruption will be disqualified and, equally importantly, no innocent person will have their reputation tarnished right before the elections.
NAB has already come in for criticism for its actions over the past few weeks, particularly from the PML-N. We have also seen election tribunals disqualify candidates – in some instances for life – only to be overturned by the courts on appeals for lack of evidence. Making such momentous decisions in a non-transparent manner will only hurt the integrity of the elections. PML-N candidate Raja Qamarul Islam was arrested just a few days after NAB issued a no-objection certificate to the Election Commission of Pakistan, thereby allowing him to contest the election. No charge sheet accompanied his arrest. The NAB chairman also spoke about what he termed the “mega corruption” of the Punjab government and there were reports that the agency was looking into corruption scandals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In all these cases, it is difficult for the average voter to ascertain guilt since there simply isn’t enough time for a proper trial. Officials of the agency should also refrain from making inflammatory statements that could influence the decision of voters. Once the elections are over, NAB should vigorously prosecute any individual that it believes is guilty of corruption. What it should not do is try to derail the elections with politically-motivated arrests. This decision to suspend arrests shows that NAB intends on acting fairly and professionally.

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