Protestors denounce parliament over fake degrees

A big crowd of politico-religious activists staged a sit-in outside Pakistan’s parliament last week in protest against large numbers of parliamentarians having fake degrees.

Tahir-ul-Qadri, leader of the ‘revolution march’ that ended on Thursday night after a peace deal, slated MPs as liars, cheats and thieves and demanded the dissolution of national and provincial assemblies.

Qadri, founder and CEO of Minhaj University in Lahore and a former law professor at Punjab University, started the march from Lahore on 14 January and staged the sit-in in front of parliament in the capital Islamabad, causing law and order problems and the closure of education institutions – including universities – for three days.

Among claims of bad governance made by the marchers, fake degrees came under the spotlight. A furore over the issue had earlier died down because of floods and tussles between state institutions, with the election commission towing the government line on fake degrees and a probe by the higher education commission affecting treasury bench interests.

Following Supreme Court directions, last January the election commission ordered police to register cases against fake degree-holding parliamentarians.

But no substantial action was taken except for some court decisions to disqualify MPs with fake degrees. And many were re-elected in by-elections held after a constitutional amendment that ended the requirement that those contesting an election be in possession of a degree.

Shame on parliament

“Shame on this parliament, which has most of the cheaters re-elected through the 18th amendment approved by political thugs of both opposition and treasury benches. You have changed the law to suit your own interests and the place for criminals like you is jail, not parliament”, said Qadri.

“Such a parliament does not have the right to exist and it should be dissolved immediately,” Qadri said. He questioned why parliament had ended the requirement of a degree: “Was this to get labourers and commoners into the parliament or to suit your own vested interests?”

Independent observers are of the view that the fake degrees issue has been buried and nothing further will happen, as all parties in parliament have within their ranks members holding bogus degrees.

Last year, when 58 parliamentarians were exposed as having forged degrees, government institutions, including the Higher Education Commission and Election Commission, were verbally directed not to disclose or answer media queries on the number of MPs holding fake degrees.

However, independent sources confirmed that as many as 106 parliamentarians possessed forged or suspect degrees, including 29 in the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the main opposition party, 26 in the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and 19 in the Muslim League Q faction, now a ruling ally.

Court orders not taken seriously

Court orders against the offending MPs were not taken seriously by the government.

A former PPP chief minister of Balochistan province, Aslam Raisani, said on TV: “A degree is a degree whether genuine or bogus.” And a former PPP leader who has now joined the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali, said: “The courts should focus on other issues of more significance.”

A glaring example of an MP with a forged degree getting re-elected after the constitutional amendment was a PPP member who resigned from the assembly in March 2010, when the Supreme Court was about to declare his disqualification. He was re-elected two months later, with PPF then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani running the election campaign. Gillani was later disqualified and removed from the office following a contempt-of-court case.

Former Higher Education Commission chair Atta-ur-Rahman told University World News: “We suspect that the number of fake degree holders in parliament might go to 300 if it is probed honestly. They [the MPs] refused to provide their papers for verification in spite of the orders of the Supreme Court.”

On Thursday night, when a clash between protesters and law enforcement agencies was most feared and the demonstration was about to enter its fifth day in severe cold, an agreement was concluded for strict implementation of constitutional articles barring fraudulent and dishonest people from contesting elections.

The law

Under the Representation of the People Act (RPA) 1976, an MP convicted of holding a fake degree can receive three years' imprisonment and be disqualified from public office for five years.

The requirement for MPs to have a bachelor degree was included in election laws by former military dictator Pervez Musharraf through the Conduct of General Elections Order 2002. The RPA 1976 was then amended to include the 2002 Order, which was later also included in the constitution by the Musharraf-led parliament.

Parliament abolished this condition through an 18th amendment to the constitution, which was enacted in 2010. But a court ruling declared that the degree condition was applicable to legislators who contested 2008 election, when the law was still in force.