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ISLAMABAD, July 9: A special Supreme Court bench started on Tuesday the hearing of two petitions challenging the graduation condition for the members of parliament and provincial assemblies, and was informed by the petitioners’ counsel that the military regime was attempting to create an “aristocratic class” of legislators.

However, Chief Justice Sheikh Riaz Ahmad observed that the condition could bring about a positive change in the political culture which was dominated by the influential families since the creation of Pakistan.

Heading the five-member bench, the CJ observed that if a commission was set up with the terms of reference to find out who were the persons returning to the assemblies, it would be revealed that the members of the same landed aristocracy were coming again and again to assemblies.

The counsel representing the petitioners completed their arguments, making it possible for the court to conclude the case on Wednesday.

The petitions were filed by the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam Group) and the Awami National Party on the grounds that minimum educational qualification condition was violative of people’s fundamental rights.

The bench consisted of Chief Justice Sheikh Riaz Ahmad, Justice Munir A. Sheikh, Justice Nazim Hussain Siddiqui, Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, and Justice Qazi Mohammad Farooq.

Syed Iftikhar Hussain Gillani, counsel for the PML(QA), attempted to persuade the court that graduates represented the elite class of society whereas non-graduates were the “disadvantaged” class, and that the court should help them out.

The counsel said the law providing that every aspiring MP must have the minimum qualification of BA or its equivalent, was beyond the legislative powers of the present regime granted to it by the Supreme Court.

He said the apex court had only allowed the government to take such legislative measures as were necessary for ensuring the running of the government orderly during the three years’ period, and any legislation going beyond that period was violative of the powers granted by the Supreme Court.

He said the wisdom had nothing to do with education and wise people like saints were uneducated persons.

Defining democracy, Mr Gillani said, it was a form of government in which citizens could participate freely. The present government was trying to create a government of a class of people who believed themselves to be more qualified and superior. Such a class of people, he pointed out, was called aristocracy.

The CJ observed that under the Constitution the government had the power to enact such laws, provided the law was reasonable. He asked the counsel to show if the impugned legislation was unreasonable.

The counsel said it was wrong to think that the National Assembly’s only function was to legislate and only educated persons were good legislators. The assembly, he said, spent only 35 per cent of its time on legislation as the rest was spent on other issues concerning citizens.

The counsel stated that if the present regime was serious in introducing the constitutional reforms, it should have deleted Article 89, providing legislative powers to the president when parliament is not in session. The provision, he said, was misused to the extent that an ordinance was repeated dozens of times.

The counsel said the Supreme Court had interpreted Article 17 of the Constitution in the Nawaz Sharif case under which forming of political party and contesting election was the right of citizens.

He contended that the intent of the regime, requiring the political aspirants to be graduate, was to control parliament.

He stated there were hardly 2pc graduates in the country and the law was discriminatory. He said that Pakistan’s only 2.6pc of youths between the age of 17 and 23 were being enrolled in institutions of higher education.

The counsel said that a large percentage of graduates was in urban areas. In many parts of the country, he added, the facility of university education was not available at all. There were only two universities in Balochistan, he pointed out.

The counsel stated that even in Britain where the democracy was being practised for the last 600 years, the Labour Party was still awarding 38pc of its tickets to those workers who did manual work.

The counsel claimed that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah would not have been able to contest elections under the present law as he, too, was not a graduate.

When the court inquired what was the minimum qualification for the district Nazims, the counsel replied it was matriculation or its equivalent. The counsel said he knew that in his constituency, Kohat, candidates for district Nazims had bought certificates equivalent to the matriculation from local Madaris for Rs3,000 to Rs4,000.

He said that under the Constitution every citizen was equal before the law, no matter what his creed or class was. The counsel said there were certain areas in the country where there was no education facility for women, what to talk of university education.

The CJ observed that it would be an incentive for those who, despite having all facilities, did not acquire education to acquire it now.

The counsel said he had remained a member of parliament for nine years and knew that performance of non-graduates was far better than the graduates.

He stated that if the government was not checked now, one day it would make a law that since prime minister had to hold such an important post, only such persons would be eligible for the post who passed the Federal Public Service Commission examination.

The counsel stated that the National Reconstruction Bureau which had suggested amendments to the Constitution, was not headed by a person who had done doctorate in political science but by a retired army general.

The counsel said it was prerogative of people to decide what candidate suited them. He said efforts were afoot to destroy the 1973 Constitution and warned that it would have disastrous consequences.

The counsel concluded his arguments by saying that time had come to eliminate classes and not to create more.

Qazi Anwar, counsel for the ANP, adopted the arguments of Mr Gillani, leaving the place for the attorney-general who would begin his arguments on Wednesday.