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Pakistan's Supreme Court Upholds Educational Restriction on Candidates

Pakistan's Supreme Court has upheld President Pervez Musharraf's requirement that candidates for parliament and provincial legislatures be university graduates. The military leader, who seized power in a coup in October 1999, has set October 10 for the national elections.

A five-member bench of the country's highest court has unanimously rejected several petitions challenging the educational restriction on politicians.

Those opposing the ban say it will eliminate 99-percent of Pakistanis from contesting elections. They say only one-percent of 140-million population are college graduates.

President Musharraf imposed the ban last month, which requires legislative candidates to hold a university degree in order to run in elections on October 10.

Pakistan has an estimated population of 140-million. It has a literacy rate of less than 30-percent and its politics has traditionally been dominated by feudal lords and business leaders.

A member of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's political party and a former law minister, Iqbal Haider, has condemned the university degree requirement as undemocratic.

"It will amount to denying the right to contest elections to 99-percent of the people of Pakistan, which will more undemocratic, most unfair," he said. "Nowhere in the world there is any such condition. Even in the most educated countries such conditions are not there. Not to talk of Pakistan where there [is] barely [a] 26-percent literacy rate. The graduates are only about one-percent of the total population."

Some reports in the local media have suggested that the educational restriction will disqualify at least 90-percent of former lawmakers from standing again. They include leading Pakistani politicians like former foreign minister Ghohar Ayub Khan and former ambassador to Washington Abida Hussain.

In addition to the university degree requirement, President Musharraf has also unveiled proposals to amend the country's constitution. Opposition parties have denounced the proposals as a move to strengthen the control of the military in politics.

The government dismisses the charge, saying the aim is check misrule and corruption by politicians