It is a question of both ethics and law when hundreds of legislators of national and provincial assemblies produce fake certificates to establish their eligibility for electoral offices. When such a large number of cheaters (what else is one to call those who wilfully violated an election law) occupy seats in our federal and provincial assemblies, people within the country and outside may rightly question the standard of our society and the quality of our ‘democratic’ leadership.
There cannot be any excuse for lying, deceiving the public or the state or violating a law, no matter how bad that law may be. Civility of a person and society is judged by respect for law and rule of law. Unfortunately, the rule of law situation in Pakistan has continuously deteriorated. So have norms of integrity and honesty on individual and collective levels. The root cause of our constitutional and moral decline is the infamous ‘law of necessity’ that our superior court under the thumb of military rulers established.
The legislators with fake degrees have offered the same excuse; political necessity forced them to violate the law because they would not leave the political arena uncontested to the rivals. In democratic societies, when law and political ambition clash, the ambition is easily defeated because no one can claim or even attempt to be above the law. This is when you have strong institutions and equally strong tradition of rule of law.
Our case is different. We are still struggling to establish rule of law. It is in this spirit that the Supreme Court has ordered the Election Commission to take action against all MPs with fake degrees. If the EC was autonomous and independent of ruling groups in the executive, action would have been taken without the intervention of the courts. And in the first place they should have been checked properly before the election.
Those who have ruled in violation of the law and the constitution or would do it now or in the future would have a fundamental interest in crippling the judiciary or any other institution that would check them or hold them accountable. It is therefore understandable why the fake degree holders and their political backers in high positions may not feel good about the decision of the Supreme Court.
However, I am in agreement with the fake degree holders that requiring a specific level of education for being in the contest for political offices is undemocratic. It is equally true that Pervez Musharraf enacted this law with a political motive to keep certain known politicians out of the assemblies.
The case in point is not as much about a bad law written under bad motives, but of personal integrity of holders of public office, i.e. our elected leaders. We would like to hold our legislators in high esteem for earning the public’s trust and confidence. But they themselves must stand taller on issues of honesty and law than rest of the crowd. Members of parliament are supposed to have a higher ethical and moral bar than ordinary mortals, and in progressive societies they set standards of integrity and lead society not by empty rhetoric but their personal example and values of achievement, integrity and commitment to public service. I don’t think all is bad in the legislatures. Not all the legislators can be placed in the same category as the ‘cheaters’. It
would be insane and immoral to judge every member of the legislatures through the conduct of those who have acted unethically and without sufficient care for the reputation of the legislative assemblies.
This furore serves to highlight the wrong of fake degree holding MPs, but should not overshadow the presence of other members who have remained truthful and upheld their honour and positions, or parliament itself. Nor should we start condemning democracy or electoral behaviour of ordinary folks on this count.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th,