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ISLAMABAD, March 26: The Supreme Court ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday to adopt a simple procedure to enable people to get copies of nomination papers filed by candidates after paying a fixed charge so that voters may raise valid objections, if any, to the candidature, credentials or antecedents of contestants.

“Under Section 14 of the Representatives of Peoples Act 1976, an elector has the right to raise objections to the nominations of the candidate,” said an order dictated by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry who heads a three-judge bench hearing implementation of its 2010 order in the fake degrees case. “The public representatives need to be like an open book …,” the chief justice observed.

ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmad Khan assured the court that a standard operating procedure would be devised soon and said the commission had already decided to place the nomination papers of prospective candidates on its website. It would help voters to seek information and file objections in terms of provision of the law, he said.

“Undoubtedly a citizen, also an elector, has a right to have access to information with reference to credentials and antecedents of the candidates for which he is going to vote as his representative,” the chief justice observed. Under article 19A of the constitution, he said, it was the fundamental right of a citizen to get information about the prospective candidate.

The objective of the ECP should strictly adhere to article 218(3) of the constitution, the court observed before postponing the proceedings to Thursday. The court asked the ECP to adopt a mechanism enabling the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to supervise the scrutiny of candidates’ degrees, including religious sanads (certificates) and secondary or higher secondary certificates, without wasting any time by referring the documents to the educational institutions concerned.

The HEC is required to adopt an effective procedure on the basis of which the ECP could get authentic information about educational degrees or certificates.

The order was issued after the ECP secretary informed the court that the HEC had been involved in testifying the degrees to ensure that no candidate presented a fake degree or document.

“It is the duty of the ECP under the command of article 218(3) of the constitution to organise honest, free and fair elections in the country,” the court observed. It noted that it was not necessary that all intending candidates held university degrees; they could be holders of sanads from recognised religious institutions which needed to be verified by the Wafaqul Tanzeemul Madaris. Likewise, the Inter Board Committee of Chairmen is the competent authority to determine the veracity of intermediate level certificates.

The ECP secretary informed the court that the commission had undertaken an exercise to verify educational degrees of 1,170 legislators who had participated in the 2008 elections. Except for 69, the educational testimonials of all others had been authenticated to be correct by the HEC, he said.

When examined by the ECP itself, he said, it found that 27 of the 69 suffered from no deficiency and references on the remaining 34 had been sent to the DPOs and courts concerned. Two cases are yet to be decided, one by the sessions judge of Dera Alllahyar and the other by the sessions judge of Dera Ismail Khan. A criminal case has also been initiated against Jamshed Dasti for holding a fake degree.

The court ordered the registrars of provincial high courts and the Islamabad High Court to collect details from the sessions judges and submit reasons why the cases had not yet been disposed of.