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ISLAMABAD: Over 90 politicians who allegedly deliberately did not submit their degrees to the Higher Education Commission (HEC) for verification may be allowed to contest the forthcoming elections.

A legal expert told Dawn that under the law ‘no one can be declared guilty (of any offence) unless proven guilty.’

These politicians are preparing to contest the elections because they know that the HEC and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) cannot create hurdles in their way.

An officer in the HEC requesting not to be identified said because of the Supreme Court order dated June 14, 2010, it was decided to verify the degrees of all the 1,095 parliamentarians and members of the provincial assemblies. However, even after two years over 90 politicians have not submitted their degrees.

Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, the president of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Punjab, while talking to Dawn said his nomination papers for two National Assembly seats (NA-146 and 147) and one provincial assembly seat (PP-188) had been cleared.

“I don’t have to deposit my credentials to the HEC because I did my graduation from the Punjab University in 1961 and at that time there was no concept of fake degrees. Those who started their political career in Musharraf’s tenure should submit their degrees for verification,” he said.

Makhdoom Faisal Salah Hayat of the PML-Q said he had been contesting elections from NA-87 and there was no issue with his degree.

“My degree has been verified and I have no issue with it and will be contesting the election from NA-87.”

Dr Nelson Azeem, of the PML-N, who was elected to the National Assembly on a reserved seat for non-Muslims, said he completed his MBBS in 1984 from the Punjab University and did not need to verify his degree.

“I cannot understand how a doctor’s degree can be fake. I don’t think that there will be any issue with my degrees,” he said.

Pir Dilawar Shah of the ANP, who was elected from NA-14 Kohat in 2008, said he had got his degree verified from the HEC long ago. So now there is no reason for submitting it again.

“I have submitted my documents for contesting the election and the district returning officer has cleared my nomination. So I don’t see any complication. I am a graduate from University of Peshawar,” he said.

It is pertinent to mention that during the hearing of parliamentarians’ fake degrees case, Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry on April 1 had observed that the ECP was competent to declare disqualified any parliamentarian who failed to verify their degrees.

During the hearing, HEC chairman Dr Javaid Laghari accused the ECP of failing to take action despite knowing that 54 lawmakers possessed fake degrees.

When contacted, legal expert Athar Minallah said as long as the candidates were not proved guilty, they cannot be stopped from contesting the elections.

“If a complaint is filed against a candidate and an inquiry starts against him, he will be disqualified after being proven guilty. However, it will be a time-consuming process,” he said.

“Complaints can be filed with courts and the election commission but because of our system it may take six months or a year or even more to decide the case,” he said.

“According to my view, the ECP should also scrutinise the degrees of those who participated in the 2008 elections and lost, because they were also equally guilty,” he said.

He said the role of the HEC had been suspicious. In 2008, the HEC declared a degree of a person fake who had done his graduation from Nigeria. But now the commission has cleared the degree and the degree holder is participating in the elections, he added.

Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, the executive director of the HEC, said the commission worked like a post office and submitted reports regarding the degrees to the Supreme Court besides sending it to the ECP.

Now it is the Supreme Court which can take the final decision regarding the issue, he added.

An official of the ECP said the ECP was also looking towards the Supreme Court to decide the fate of the candidates.