The Supreme Court, while hearing the fake degrees case, has ordered that 189 ex-parliamentarians to submit their degrees to the Higher Education Commission for verification by April 5, and asked the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to inform the Returning Officers where these ex-parliamentarians have filed nomination forms for the coming election, so that they could be disqualified in case of noncompliance. Whereas it is quite true that anyone who has presented a fake degree in the previous two elections, cannot be judged to qualify under Articles 62 and 63, it must not be forgotten that the graduation condition, that a parliamentarian be a graduate, no longer applies. At the same time, non-graduates were brought into the assemblies by having their nominations accepted. The first assembly elected with the graduation condition, was elected in 2008, and then the second, though Parliament passed the constitutional amendment that reverted to the previous situation where educational qualification is not a condition. However, members of these assemblies remain liable for the degrees they submitted, and if they prove to have submitted fake degrees, they are not qualified for the current election.

The Returning Officers are supposed to carry out ‘strict scrutiny’, which is all very well, as they are supposed to, but they must keep in mind that the scrutiny is not supposed to defeat the purpose of the poll. The purpose they must keep in mind is that of offering the electorate of the constituency the candidates who met the legal requirements. The graduation condition is no longer a requirement. To insist on it for previous elections seems something of a distraction from those who might not qualify because they have not paid utility bills, or have had loans written off. The Returning Officers must remember that so far the ECP has done its best to facilitate candidates and parties, and has not used its powers to put obstacles in the way of either parties or voters from getting their choice of candidates. They should not at this point abandon this accommodating frame of mind.

It is true that these elections are supposed to yield assemblies free of the defects of previous assemblies, but that does not mean that candidates are to be held hostage to a condition for candidature that is no longer applicable. However, it is likewise true that people guilty of fraud and deception cannot be allowed to stand for public office. The Returning Officers must remember this, and also that it is incumbent upon them to conduct the election in their constituency in so free, fair and transparent a manner, that all, including not just candidates and voters, but those not allowed to be either, will accept the result wholeheartedly. This includes the question of who is qualified to be a candidate for election, and thus the best guide for Returning Officers is the law, and if they strictly adhere to it, they cannot go wrong. In this case, they cannot afford to either.