ISLAMABAD Pakistani education authorities are checking the academic credentials of parliamentarians amid fears that scores could be disqualified for holding fake degrees, leading to large-scale by-elections.
A spate of elections could raise political tensions in the country, which is confronted with a growing threat of Islamist militancy and is struggling to bolster a weak economy.
"The Higher Education Commission (HEC) is verifying the degrees of all parliamentarians in line with the orders of the Supreme Court," an official of the Election Commission told Reuters.
He said the HEC has learned of at least 35 members of parliament who had not filed their university degrees along with their nomination papers, while the diplomas of 138 members were illegible.
Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf introduced a law that parliamentarians must hold a university degree, a move largely aimed at keeping his rivals out of parliament.
President Asif Ali Zardari's government later struck down the law.
But Pakistan's increasingly assertive Supreme Court last week ordered election authorities to take action against legislators who were found guilty of forging their diplomas to contest the 2008 general elections.
By-elections have already been held on about a dozen seats of national and provincial assemblies in recent weeks after the degrees of some office-holders were found to be fake.
Some politicians have reacted angrily to the verification of their educational credentials.
"A degree is degree, whether it is fake or genuine. It makes no difference," Zardari's ally and chief minister of the southwestern Baluchistan province, Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani, shouted at reporters on Tuesday.
Most holders of fake degrees are believed to be members of the main opposition party led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N, which rules Punjab, the country's biggest and most important province.
(Editing by Chris Allbritton and Alex Richardson)