The religious alliance MMA (Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal or United Assembly for Action), along with the rest of the opposition, has been agitating for getting rid of the Constitutional amendments made by General Musharraf and making him choose between keeping his uniform or his presidency. In addition, MMA has been on a collision course with Musharraf over the Shariat Bill they passed in NWFP province. Musharraf called it “talibanization” of NWFP.
Another issue which hasn’t gotten much attention is the educational qualification of MMA members of Parliament. Musharraf had introduced a requirement for a college degree equivalent to a BA (a Bachelor of Arts in Pakistan generally involves 2 years of college) for all candidates in the last election. A majority of MMA candidates do not have college degrees; instead they are graduates of the madrassas. The Election Commission before the elections decided to accept madrassa diplomas based on an equivalency decision by the University Grants Commission in the 1970s for teaching jobs.
After the election, a losing candidate of PML-QA (the ruling party in the center) filed a petition to the Election Tribunal. This tribunal has now decided that his MMA opponent who won the election is not qualified to be a member of Parliament because he has a madrassa diploma which is not equivalent to a Bachelors degree.
The election tribunal (ET) disqualified on Monday Mufti Ibrar Sultan, MNA of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal from NA-14 Kohat and ordered holding of fresh elections.
While announcing the verdict, the ET said the Sanad (degree) of MNA Mufti Ibrar Sultan was not equal to Bachelor of Arts, therefore, he did not fulfil the required criteria for contesting election for the National Assembly.
Mufti Sultan was elected MNA from NA-14 Kohat by defeating former federal minister and leader of the PML-QA Iftikhar Hussain Gillani, who filed an election petition with the ET challenging qualification of his opponent. He argued before the court that the degree of his opponent was not equal to BA. He added that it could be termed equal to BA only for teaching purpose. Gillani requested the tribunal that Mufti Ibrar must be declared disqualified.
This is very problematic for the religious alliance because most of their parliamentarians are madrassa graduates. In fact, there is currently a lawsuit pending before the Supreme Court challenging the educational qualifications of 65 members of Parliament belonging to MMA.
Earlier this month Supreme Court notices were sent out to 65 members of the MMA after a petition was lodged with the court challenging their academic credentials.
The request has led to accusations from religious leaders that the petition is a political ploy to undermine their authority.
There are fears that if this decision is upheld by the Supreme Court the majority of the MMA legislators who only have degrees from madrassas (Islamic seminaries) could find themselves disqualified.
The religious alliance has probably around 60 members in the National Assembly and 18 or so Senators. So this lawsuit can potentially disqualify almost all MMA members in the Parliament. If that happens, they will in all likelihood be removed from the provincial assemblies as well. No more MMA rule in NWFP or the coalition government with PML-QA in Balochistan!
Despite my long list of differences with the religious alliance, I think this is disturbing news. This will force the MMA into agitational politics and increase their extremism. The religious parties probably have the strongest street cadres and they are liable to take to the streets in protest. I doubt they will be able to bring down the government, but the speck of democracy that Pakistan has will probabaly disappear.
I also find the requirement of a Bachelors degree for members of Parliament to be a abd thing despite my meritocratic and elitist tendencies. This is especially true in a coutry like Pakistan where the literacy rate is 42.7%.