27 March 2004

India born can be Italy's PM

27 March 2004
The Times of India

India-born can be Italy's PM


NEW DELHI: India is not the only country in the world to allow naturalised citizens —like Sonia Gandhi — the right to aspire for high political office.

A survey of 50 world constitutions by The Times of India found that as many as 32 countries did not reserve their top executive posts for natural-born citizens.

Fourteen countries bar naturalised citizens from high office while the remaining four bar non-native born citizens only from the presidency but not other high office.

Contrary to claims made by BJP-NDA spin doctors, most European countries, including Italy, allow all citizens to run for public office regardless of place of birth or ethnicity.

The only restriction the Italian constitution places on the presidency (Article 84), for example, is that citizens must be at least 50 years old. Thus, an Indian-born Italian citizen could try her luck at the presidency or PM’s office.

The Indian Constitution does not differentiate between natural-born and naturalised citizens when it comes to political rights and explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, sex, caste, origin and place of birth.

Arnold as US prez? Amendment in the works

The US is the only 'established' democracy in our survey to discriminate between the two categories of citizenship.

Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of its constitution limits eligibility for presidency and vice-presidency to native-born citizens.

The US measure was adopted due to rumours, during the constitution's drafting, of a secret attempt to bring a European royal - most probably the bishop of Osnaburgh, who was the second son of George III, or Prince Henry of Prussia - to serve as constitutional monarch.

The natural-born clause, which John Jay pushed, over the reservations of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, was publicly proclaimed to dispel these fears of a foreign power undermining the new nation.

Last year, Senator Orrin Hatch introduced a constitutional amendment to allow those Americans who have been naturalised citizens for 20 years to run for president.

Also known as the 'Arnie amendment' - since California's Austria-born governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is backing it - the measure is not expected to be enacted soon.

But if it runs aground, it would be because of the American aversion to frequent constitutional changes rather than the fear of 'foreign powers' subverting the US.

Most countries with constitutional bans on naturalised citizens wielding executive power are in Africa, Latin America and the Arab world.

In general, these tend to be countries where either democracy is not well-established or where linguistic and ethnic groups frequently overlap state boundaries, giving rise to an often irrational fear of neighbours making political inroads through migration.

A few years ago, for example, Cote d'Ivoire was plunged into crisis when opposition leader Dramane Ouattara was disqualified because one of his parents was born in neighbouring Burkina Faso.

The TOI survey found that many countries with a strong and often exclusive sense of 'ethnic' identity - like Japan, Turkey and South Korea - did not bother to restrict high office to indigenous citizens.

Pakistan merely stipulates that its president has to be a Muslim (apart from being a citizen). The constitution of the Jewish state of Israel allows foreign-born citizens to become president or PM and does not even specify that they be Jewish.

The Iranian constitution states that the president must be of Iranian origin and nationality but mentions no citizenship qualification at all for its powerful Supreme Leader.

The constitutional requirements for the top job - now held by Ayatollah Khamenei - only include "scholarship", "justice and piety" and the "right political and social perspicacity".

Pramod Mahajan, who mooted the suggestion - aimed at Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi - of barring citizens from high office unless both parents are native Indians probably had Yemen in mind as his model.

The Yemeni constitution stipulates Yemeni parentage of candidates. It also disqualifies citizens who are married to foreigners.

And in case Mahajan wants to make sure even Priyanka's children are kept out, he'll have to look hard for a role model.

Even the Tunisian constitution, which includes a 'native grandparents' clause for prospective presidents insists only that the maternal and paternal grandfathers be Tunisian.

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