Reforming the legislators – on the fake degrees

Raza Rumi

The debate on fake degrees has captured the middle class imagination of Pakistan’s mainstream media. True that lying and misrepresenting facts is not acceptable. Yet, discriminatory laws against the political elites are not kosher either. The debate on the issue remains sensationalist, purist and devoid of the larger context of Pakistan’s democratic history.

Each era of our existence has witnessed such campaigns. In the 1950s laws to screen out the corrupt politicians was launched with much fanfare. It was a clear tool for the unelected institutions to tame and manipulate the political class. In the 1960s such a process was institutionalized and Pakistan reeled under the ill-effects of authoritarianism leading to the break up of the country in 1971.

The establishment continued the policy throughout the 1980s and we witnessed the growth and proliferation of politicians who were absolutely wedded to the fortification of Pakistan as a national security state. In the 1990s, such games continued and we have cases from that decade which are yet to be adjudicated. The state as a whole has used these as bargaining chips. This is why the debate on NRO is complex and its moral simplification becomes a historical act in itself.
The new wave of politician-watch is now emerging from the mainstream media which has tasted an unprecedented spurt of power during the Anti-Musharraf movement in 2007. Arguably, that was a fascinating moment in our history; however, its long-term ramifications are yet to be assessed. The narrative of the lawyers’ movement places it above the ‘dirty politics’ of the political parties. Symbolically, the elections of 2008 –with fairly legitimate results – were boycotted by the lawyers. Optimists however hold that this was essential to Pakistan’s democratic development. Civic action is the backbone of functional democratic polities.

However, the media and the civil society activists are not elected. This is plain truth without casting any aspersion on the motives behind the current umbrage on fake degrees of over 150 legislators across the country. The interesting part is that there is less of focus on the madrassa degrees which are as irrelevant as a spurious degree. After all who regulates and ensures the quality of madrassa instruction in Pakistan? No one except the sectarian heads of such seminaries. The reluctance to take on the madrassas also displays the general reticence of the media to confront with political Islam that is inextricably linked to the national security paradigm of the state.

More dangerously the current debate ignores the wider agenda of electoral reform that remain unattended. The issue of submitting degrees cannot be divorced from other oaths and declarations that the legislators have to provide at the time of contesting elections. The efficacy and capacity of the Election Commission is also a huge challenge that remains ignored. What we need is a comprehensive package of electoral reforms agenda agreed by the political parties. The Charter of Democracy has some pointers that can be expanded further. We definitely don’t want witch hunting and further defamation of the politicians at a time when democratic system faces formidable dangers and when the might of the unelected remains supreme over the elected. Democracy does not become functional, moral and competent in two years after a decade of dictatorship.

This is why the out of focus shrill on the fake degrees contains the seeds of political instability. Already there are predictions and endless talk shows on the possibility of mid-term elections. Is it not a democratic norm to let an elected government complete its tenure? Even if hundreds of legislators are disqualified by the Election Commission, bye-elections can be held within ninety days and the issue will be resolved.

The political parties should be pressurized to deliver on their internal accountability and transparent management of party structures. But they should not be hounded and discredited so soon. We will have to choose what we want to be: an autocratic banana republic or a democratic polity. If we choose the latter then we have to be fair, democratic and not so ready to dismiss the electoral process altogether. Reforming the institutions is far more rewarding than abolishing them.

A version of this article was published in Daily Express-Tribune

9 Comments

Filed under Judiciary, Pakistan, Politics, public policy, Society

9 responses to “Reforming the legislators – on the fake degrees

  1. Mustafa Shaban

    @Raza: Arent mid term elections also part of a democratic process like in Turkey and Italy??

  2. Mustafa: elections when we are waging a war in the north-west and the country is facing an unprecedented wave of terror?
    We have had a terrible experience of ‘mid term’ elections in the 1990s. There were 4 elected governments and 3 caretaker administrations between 1988-1999. 7 governments and cabinets in a decade with no policy continuity, confrontational climate allowing the unelected institutions to rule. Such democracy quite naturally culminated in the 1999 coup. (This was similar to the period 1947-1958 with fragile 8 or 9 governments if I am not mistaken – I can’t even remember the names of the long list of PMs).
    Is that we want once again?

  3. Raza

    I think it is an excellent article and rightly tries to highlight the real issue: skepticism of the middleclass about democracy.
    Second important issue which has been highlighted is that running a state has several priorities. Right now with situation really precarious in the norhtern part of the country and even Punjab, undue focus on NRO and fake degrees will have a destablizing effect.

  4. Amna

    Well said Raza. Besides, voting behavior, pattern and decisions of the masses are not functions of the academic qualifications of a candidate. I personally have never heard of a candidate waving her degree in election rallies and asking people to vote for her because she has earned a B.A. !!! Although ethical aspects of fake degrees might be debatable, the representativeness of such legislators, perhaps is not.

  5. Farah

    Fake degree issues has direct relevance to general level of truthfulness in our polticians. If they are lying about degress, can we believe them about their efforts against terrorism, economic slowdown etc.

    Just because the writer consider this as a minor issue, while giving extra importance to other topics, does not make fake degrees unimportant.

  6. DN

    Im afraid i dont understand the issue frem the start. Are degree holders less corrupt? Do they work more for the betterment of people if they have knowledge of lets say English or Mathematics or they are better at solving problems if they know theoroms.
    If the debate that they can be better legislators because of the awareness, one just has to take alook at the productivity of our assemblies and the expenses incurred on our elected representatives.
    And if the people have voted for a person knowing he is not a degree holder, whose opinion should have more weightage? The masses or the legislation?

  7. Farukh Sarwar

    The crux of this reading is present in the end that we need to reform our system and everything like the reformation of Europe, and not discredit the democratic system that is already in a fragile state.

  8. Mustafa Shaban

    @Farah: Well said, people tend to have a narrow focus thinking we can only handle or talk about one thing at a time when in fact we should be able to look at different issues simeltaneously and deal with them at the same time as well. The integrity and honesty of a leader is very important, thats what democracy is all about, masses trusting those that govern them. Thats how you collect tax, by showing people that you can be trusted.

    @Raza: We can do elections, its a war defnitely but not in a way that we cannot do elections. Think about it, if people lose faith in any administration which is accused of various scandals then doesnt the leadership of that administration continue to harm the country rather than benefit? If the leadership is corrupt, and the people lose trust in the leaders then what use is there of them staying in power? We cannot say that if we permit midterm elections that we will repeat the 90’s sitaution agian. Thngs are different. If we did not have military intervention than democracy would have gone through its self cleansing process which is what is happening now. People are getting familiar with political parties and are beginning to see which ones serve thier interest best. Italy had 25 midterm elections over the past years. Does Italy look unstable? Thing is that midterm elections are a important component of democracy, we had midterms in india as well.

  9. Rabia

    excellent article.