Friday, May 14, 2010

Parliament and the obeying the law

Editorial -- The Express Tribune -- May 15

Many laws, in other countries as well as our own, are unfair. They discriminate against individuals or set in place measures that are aimed to suit only particular purposes – in some cases undoubtedly ulterior ones. But no matter what the case, laws need to be obeyed. Indeed it is all the more important that people in responsible places or aspiring to such positions try and set the right precedent. There are many reasons to disagree with the rule set in place under the regime of Pervez Musharraf that required those contesting elections to parliament to hold a degree. But the fact is that at the time when the members of the present assemblies contested elections it was in place. In April 2008, prior to the presidential election it was brought before the Supreme Court by two JUI-F legislators and consequently struck down by a seven-member bench headed by then chief justice Abdul Hameed Dogar.
As far as Jamshed Dasti’s case is concerned, he resigned after it became clear to a Supreme Court bench hearing a petition challenging the authenticity of his degree that he was not conversant as a graduate should be. The complication arises because once he resigned he was again given the ticket — this time on the grounds apparently that the graduation condition was no longer required. In comes the prime minister who the other day campaigned for the much-maligned former legislator and now bye-election candidate on a seat from Muzaffargarh. This was picked up in the media and the prime minister came in for strong criticism for campaigning on behalf of a man who had broken the law. In response, on May 13 the prime minister spoke about this in the National Assembly suggesting that the media was trying to malign parliament by saying that a majority of its members have degrees which have been purchased. He also said — and rightly so — that the graduation condition was not a requirement in any industrialised country or indeed anywhere else in the rest of the world and that Dasti has been approved by the Election Commission as a candidate.

We like to respectfully submit that the issue is not whether the graduation condition is a necessary one or not. For the record, it is unnecessary and counter-productive because it immediately disqualifies the bulk of Pakistanis from contesting a parliamentary election and purely on grounds that the lack a certain academic qualification. This in fact runs counter to the spirit of the constitution and was deemed as such by the Supreme Court way back in 2008 — so there really should be little argument about it. The issue, rather, is of the elected leader of parliament publicly meeting and campaigning for an individual who by his own admission broke a law to contest an election. That is something that no body, not even the prime minister, can really defend because by doing so would mean that what Dasti did in forging his degree was the right thing to have done. And even with a law that made little sense, and was put in place at the whims of a military dictator, violating it when the purpose was to become a member of parliament is not something that can be condoned.

In this context, the media is not targeting legislators for having fake degrees but rather raising a very important issue, and that relates to the matter of those running for public office abiding by election rules. This means that even though the law may not be in force now, all those members of parliament who violated it at the time that it was in operation should be held accountable before a court of law. This should be seen as no different than prosecuting those who defraud the general public by willful misrepresentation or those who use deception to gain access to state resources. After all, given the increased lawlessness we see in our country, it is surely important for those holding top positions to do all they can to combat it by themselves ensuring they abide by the law, regardless of whether or not they see it as just.

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